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Spring 2006 

A Liberal Arts Journal Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Troubled Prophet: The Life and Death of Michael Metelica 

By Thomas Weston Fcls 

Nathaniel Hawthorne as Art Critic: The Italian Experience and The Marble faun 

By Tony Gengarclly 

Global Justice and the Absence of Universal Morality: Rawlsian Perspectives 
on Human Rights and International Relations 

By Paul O. Nnodim 


By Kelli Newby 

Crossing Over: Hank Williams, Sam Cooke and the Birth of Modern Soul 
and Country 

Ry Richard Taskin 

Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal 

SPRING 2006 

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

Editorial Board 

Bill Montgomery, Managing Editor 
Robert Bence 
Harold Brotzman 
Sum) Colligan 
Abbot Cutler 
Tony Gengarelly 
Steve Green 
Leon Peters 
Graiiana Ramsden 
Arlene Bouras, Copy Editor 

Advisory Board 

James MacGregor B urns, Professor of history and political science. 
University of Maryland 
Stephen Fix, Professor of English, Williams College 
Thomas Green, Professor of law and history. University of Michigan 
Mary Huber. Carnegie Foundation scholai 
Lea Newman, Professor of English emerita. Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 
Joseph Thompson, Director of MASS MoCA 

© 2006 The Mind's Eye 
ISSN 1098-05 12 


The Mind's Eye, a journal of scholarly and creative work, is published annu- 
ally by Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. While emphasizing articles of 
scholarly merit, The Mind's Eye focuses on a general communicat ion of ideas of 
interest to a liberal arts college. We welcome expository essays, including re- 
views, as well as fiction, poetry and art. Please refer to the inside back cover 
for a list of writer's guidelines. 

A yearly subscription to The Mind's Eye is $7.50. Send check or money or- 
der to The Mind's Eye, CIO Bill Montgomery, Massachusetts College of Liberal 
Arts, 375 Church Street, North Adams, MA 01247. 

Mind's Eye 

SPRING 2006 

Editor's File 

Troubled Prophet: The Life and Death of Michael 

By Thomas Wesion Fels 5 

Nathaniel Hawthorne as Art Critic: The Italian 
Experience and The Marble Faun 
By Tony Gengarelly 40 

Global Justice and the Absence of Universal 
Morality: Rawlsian Perspectives on Human Rights 
and International Relations 

By Paul O. Nnodim 57 


By Kelli Newby 74 

Crossing Over: Hank Williams, Sam Cooke and the 
Birth of Modern Soul and Country 

By Richard Taskin 89 

Contributors 96 

The rock band drawn from the central Massachusetts commune Brotherhood 
of the Spirit, Spirit in Flesh, later changed its name to match that of its leader, 
Michael Melelica, when in the mid-1970s he chose lo become known as 
Rapunzel. The band toured the Northeast extensively in 1975-1976, and the 
poster on the cover probably dates from 1975. (Elizabeth Hapgood Papers, Special 
Collections. W.E .B. DuBois Library, University of Massachusetts. Amherst) 

Editor's File 

nly a generation ago, the rock singer Michael Metelica 

attracted crowds of listeners and a band of cult followers, 

X^^X the Brotherhood of the Spirit; yet he once confessed to 
Thomas Weston Fels that he had ceased to grow after the age of 15. In 
our lead article, Fels explores the performer's truncated career and 
reflects on the personal drives that made him at once a compelling 
and an u nbearable spirit. Tony Gengarelly takes on another charismatic 
but incomplete man, the fictional Donatello of Hawthorne's The Marble 
Faun. Following Hawthorne, Gengarelly views him through the eyes 
of American art lovers who had traveled to Italy, where they found 
themselves haunted, both by Donatello himself and by powerful 
sculpture evoking the lives of unfinished people. 

In our third article, Paul Nnodim addresses a very different issue, 
John Rawls's monumental effort to define a cosmopolitan 
understanding of social justice. Nnodim applauds the wisdom of 
Rawls's great principie of justice as fairness, but he laments his inability 
to solve the problems raised by cultural disagreement — in particular, 
the problems raised by Muslim disagreement with modern pluralism. 
Kelli Ne why's short story touches on a milder point of cultural conflict 
involving a young American student stranded in London at Christmas.- 
Mourning a family death, she has to struggle with airlines and the 
international phone system amidst the city's pigeons, tourists and 
immigrants, all with lives of their own. Finally, Richard Taskin reviews 
two important biographies of Hank Wiltiams and Sam Cooke, who 
struggled musically with the racial divisions of American life. Williams 
revealed the power of the blues to invigorate country-and-western 
music. Cooke sometimes found it difficult to adapt his Gospel heritage 
for white listeners, but he, too, achieved a powerful response during 
the Civil Rights era. Both men bridged a cultural gap that has been 
growing wider in recent years. Together they offet a challenge and, 
perhaps, a rebuke to the increasing resegregation of our own time. 

Bill Montgomery, Managing Editor 

4 The Mind's Eye 

Troubled Prophet: 
The Life and Death of 
Michael Metelica 

By Thomas Weston Fels 

From inside the car, rolling slowly along Main Street, the view 
through the smoked-glass windows was gratifying. Along the 
broad sidewalks of Turners Falls, a formerly depressed mill town 
in western Massachusetts, new businesses flourished. Where livelihood 
had been difficult, it now prospered. A way of life that had been 
endangered now seemed stable and protected. Several of the important 
properties in the town had come under the ownership of a thriving 
spiritual sect that had recently blossomed in the area, and its leader, 
the driver of the car, was satisfied for the moment with its progress. 

"Let's head back to Warwick," he said to his companions, and the 
automobile accelerated on out of town, over its great mill dam and the 
bridge connecting the town's main street to the large state road to 
Boston. The year was 1973. The destination was the organization's 
compound some ten miles away. The automobile was a Rolls-Royce. 
As lie peered through the windows of the car, Michael Metelica, the 

The Mind's Eye 5 

Thomas Weston Pels 

youthful leader of the Brotherhood of the Spirit, had much to be proud 
of. In a few brief years his group had grown from a handful of friends 
to a family of some 300 souls of all ages from many parts of the country. 
After several moves they had settled in Warwick, where they built a 
campus. Metelica's rock band. Spirit in Flesh, had achieved some 
measure of success, touring often, attracting sizable crowds and 
recording on a national label. His businesses included a theater, a 
recording studio, a bakery, a restaurant, a design company, a music 
store, a quarterly publication and an antique shop. To transport its 
members to work, the community was negotiating to buy a fleet of 
35 cars. 

As he told me later, in interviews related here, this era was the 
height of his achievement. "We had everything we could need," he 
said. Yet, as his life was ending in the winter of 2003, he was living 
alone, sick and unemployed, and far from whatever few acoiytes and 
charmed domain remained from those times. It was a striking trajectory. 


The Brotherhood of the Spirit was the direct outgrowth of Michael 
Metelica's personal spiritual quest. In a series of conversations during 
the fall and winter of 2002-2003, he told me that as a troubled teenager, 
prone to violence and inattention at school, he had observed the 
transient qualities of friendship among his peers and decided during 
his high school years to focus his own efforts, by contrast, on the 
nurturing of groups and the support of individual identities — among 
thera his own. In pursuit of these goals, and as a place in which he 
could act freely on his own principles, he built a tree house in 1968 
near his home in Leyden, a rural farming community below the 
Vermont border, just north of Greenfield, Massachusetts. The tree 
house, still a fixture in local folklore, attracted a group of like-minded 
friends. During this period, 1967-1968, Metelita and his group 
experimented with cooperative ways of life, bartering farming, sugaring 
and other services for goods and rent. 

Later in 1968 the tree house burned, the victim of some of 
Metelica's less like-minded friends. At the same time, the group began 
to grow. The combination sent the nascent community off to a series 
of rented or bartered houses. Their accumulated experiences, along 
with the attention the group had begun to attract, began to breed 
cohesion, and its size began to demand leadership. Before long, in part 

6 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Fcls 

due to the notoriety created by a 1968 article on the group in True 
magazine, some 20 young people were living in a tiny house in 
Charlemont, a town not far from Leyden. The young man perceived 
to be their leader was Michael Metelica (Collier). 

According to Beth Hapgood, Metelica's longtime neighbor and 
friend, much of the original impetus to shape the Brotherhood of the 
Spirit originated in her house. Hapgood, an octogenarian graduate of 
Wellcsley College who inclines toward the spiritual, moved to western 
Massachusetts with her husband in the early 1950s to raise a family. 
Among her children was a daughter to whom Michael Metelica later 
became much attracted. In the time he spent visiting her in the mid- 
1960s at the Hapgood house, at 88 Main Street in North field, Beth 
recalls, Michael was introduced to spiritual philosophy, poetry, 
meditation and additional tools that provided a welcome alternative 
to the troubles he experienced, in other areas of his life. 

At the time, Beth Hapgood reminded me, all of this was new. In 
her house, which she ran somewhat on the model of a commune 
before such alternative institutions gained wider popularity, she read 
to her extended family from Kahlil Gibran and Krishnamurti, and 
encouraged them to try meditation. Michael had never heard of any 
of these pillars of alternative life. In a later interview with Beth, recorded 
in her self-published book 88 Main Street, Metelica acknowledged that 
these experiences had offered him the opportunity to make one of the 
key decisions of his life. "I always thought of myself as a survivalist," 
he said. "I wanted to be a real killer, or a real healer." At 88 Main 
Street, he continued, "I survived through a very critical period when I 
could have been extremely violent. ... It was at 88 that the decision 
turned toward being a healer, and really caring about my actions" 
(Hapgood, Main 186-187). 


While Metelica was unfamiliar with the public formalities of 
spiritual life, he was no stranger to its private promptings. From an 
early age he had experienced visions, nightmares and esoteric insights 
that challenged, even hampered, his ability to view and live life in a 
normal manner. Hapgood feels that this is why school was so difficult 
for him. Metelica suggested, to me later that a pharmacological solution 
to his difficulties might have been possible, had the drugs we have 
today been available. In either case, while Hapgood may have provided 

The Mind s Bye 7 

Thomas Weston Feb 

a structure for his strong and unusual energy, its existence was 
something with which he was already familiar, for dealing with it was 
at the center of his life. 

A guide in this rarefied supersensory realm arrived for Metelica 
through Beth in the form of the prominent psychic medium Elwood 
Babbitt. Babbitt was an older man, a local schoolbus driver and a 
subsistence farmer who, in a trance state, was able to perform personal 
readings and contact distant mythical and historical figures. Among 
the characters who appeared regularly in his "life readings" were 
Nostradamus, Mark Twain aird Albert Einstein. A veteran of the spiritual 
life — of many lives, he would say — Elwood lived nearby, and he and 
Beth became close friends and collaborators in spiritual matters. 

To Michael Metelica, Babbitt offered a model of a psychically free 
soul, a man living physically in a particular age — the present — but 
tied to, or liberated by, a much larger set of forces: history, energy, 
psychology, spirit. For Metelica, prey to dreams and visions, the 
disembodied continuum suggested by Babbitt seems to have offered 
needed context and meaning to his life. Through Babbitt, Metefica 
became aware that he had earlier been incarnated as — among others — 
Saint Peter and Robert E. Lee. Conversant with such exotic spiritual 
coordinates, he was well positioned to become an instant success among 
the largely lost and far less articulate young souls who were increasingly 
attracted to him and the Brotherhood, through rumor and news, as a 
source of direction and self-empowerment. 

Metelica is prominently featured in two promotional films made 
by the Brotherhood in 1976 to extol its way of life to prospective recruits 
(Dudelhcim). In these hints, in a scene reminiscent of Easy Rider, he 
rides a Harley-Davidsnn, his band perlorms on tour to crowds of 
teenagers, the organization's businesses and daily life are illustrated 
and explained and he arrives on a tarmac to a group of enthusiastic 
brethren, emerging like a rock star from a private plane. A credit line 
introducing the films states proudly that all equipment seen in these 
movies is owned and operated by members of the Brotherhood. 

The most striking scenes in the films are not, however, those of 
bravado or worldly success but the segments of Metelica addressing 
the regular meetings of the Brotherhood. These records of the group's 
informal gatherings to focus on meditation and spiritual values reveal 
nothing of the earlier troubled child he had been. Rather, they show a 
young man completely at ease with himself, speaking to a spellbound 

8 The Mind s Eye 

Thomas, Weswn Feb 

audience in a natural flow of emotion and knowledge that is highly 
charismatic. His essential message in these talks is: I have brought myself 
to this state, and you can, too. For an outsider, this picture is also a 
matter for wonder; To one familiar with Metefka's story, his facility as 
an inspired public speaker is an astonishing transformation from the 
uncertainty, privacy, recalcitrance and pain that had gone before. 

These abilities, according to Beth Hapgood, provided a natural 
vessel for his growing talent as a leader and guide. "People and music," 
she said to me on one of my recent visits ro her house in Greenfield, 
"these were always the focus of his life. And always that unbounded 
energy to which people were attracted. He was a natural leader." 
Indeed, at this time, Metelica was radiant with energy and youth. Wiry, 
slim and endowed with long blond hair, he was a poster boy for the 
New Age. 


If you happened to live in the Northeast during the 1970s, Michael 
Metelica might have come directly to you. Through a booking agent 
he knew, his band Spirit in Flesh (later called simply Metelica, and 
finally Rapunzel) toured widely, especially in upstate New York. In 
1971 they played Carnegie Hall. The band, like a number of others in 
professional music, was not a group of brothers or friends but individual 
musicians handpicked by Metelica to support him as a vocalist and to 
present the spiritually oriented music he wrote. As with other bands, 
personnel changed with some regularity, and it took many rehearsals 
with each succeeding group to bring Michael's ambitious repertoire 
up to the level of public performance. Still, engagements were fulfilled 
and albums were made. Those of a certain age may remember the 
brief period when New York's West Side Highway was plastered with 
posters touting the band's Carnegie Hall debut. 

The life of the media star was one Metelica relished. At that point 
in his career, he was a high school dropout, with a following of 
adherents, living in rural Massachusetts and touring with his own band. 
As with other bands, for practical reasons, a bus was outfitted to 
facilitate their tours. Later, one of the successful businesses into which 
the Brotherhood ventured was the outfitting of touring buses for other 
musical groups. 

The concerts, tours and attendant publicity served not only to 
further Metehca's desire for stardom but. to advance the message and 
hone the abilities of the Brotherhood. As with other activities of the 

The Mind's Eye 9 

Thomas Weston Pels 

group, they promoted collective planning and action, and encouraged 
the camaraderie for which the community became known throughout 
the region. In a 1997 article, 14-year group veteran Dan Brown 
describes the "impassioned, ecstatic, determined, frightfully intense" 
tone of life in the early days at the Brotherhood and on the road. 
"Everyone looked as if they were having the time of their lives," he 
recounts. "The air seemed charged," as well it might among a group 
that, espousing Metelica's message, believed it was "out to save the 
world" (Brown 2). 

In a 1971 essay, Billy Rojas wrote of his first impressions of the 
group on the occasion of a concert by Metelica's band at the University 
of Massachusetts, in neighboring Amherst, in April 1970. After a 
dramatic musical invocation to the rebellious youth of the day, the 
volume rose louder and louder until "the doors on either side of the 
stage flew open with an audible crash. Into the hall burst some 50 or 
60 people from the Brotherhood. They were jumping, singing, dancing — 
joyous. As they stormed the aisles, they reached out to the would-be 
spectators. Soon perhaps half of the audience had poured into the aisles 
and they and the communards were dancing together, dancing 
rhythmically, arms linked, or moving freely in improvised styles." "It is 
difficult to judge the emotions of hundreds of people," he continues, 
"but at the peak of the experience, many, possibly most of the participants 
experienced a sensation approaching euphoria" (Rojas S). 

Life at the Brotherhood 

At this time, shortly after its inception, the Brotherhood needed 
to be housed and cared for. This led, in 1 970, to the purchase of their 
first property, 40 acres in Warwick, and soon after to the buiiding of a 
large dormitory, a practice studio for the band and other facilities for 
the housing and maintenance of a large group of people, including an 
impressive and comfortable home for their leader. To accomplish this, 
the Brotherhood of the Spirit shared experiences similar to those of 
many other alternative communities. Public inspectors had to be dealt 
with, and regulations for buildings, water and sewer met; matters such 
as ownership needed to be formalized and registered; crews for building 
and other tasks had to be organized and directed. Since the Brotherhood 
was a spiritual community, the responsibility for much of this tended 
to fa!! on the shoulders of its acknowledged leader and the small 
informal group of advisors, called the "core group," with whom he 
had worked since the days of the tree house. 

10 The Mind 's Eye 

Thomas Western Pels 

One of the most onerous and well-publicized chapters in this phase 
of the organization's development occurred in the winter of 1971- 
1972 over the issue of welfare. With several hundred people living 
together, availing themselves of free public services, local and regional 
leaders finally took notice. A state regulation requiring welfare 
recipients living together to be of a single family was applied to members 
of the group. The Brotherhood fought back through lobbying. 
Eventually, a form of detente was reached. 

This and other friction provoked not only sizable waves in the 
region but change within the Brotherhood itself. At some 300 people, 
it had become cumbersome and difficult to manage. As an alternative 
organization, it was large enough and sufficiently informally organized 
to be an easy target for outsiders. As a part of a larger community — 
strong community was one of Metelica's central beliefs — it was clearly 
not fitting in. 

To his credit, Metelica took action. In 1973 he asked those who 
believed in him and the community to stay and anyone not interested 
in its fortunes and goals to leave. This modestly reduced the size of the 
group. Those who remained were required to get work — either find it 
or create it. With the funding accumulated through the donations of 
members and their families, buildings and housing were bought in 
Turners Falls to help provide employment and generate income for 
the group. (A condition of joining the Brotherhood was the pooling of 
all available personal resources. Metelica himself controlled the group's 
finances.) The effort also served the useful purpose of dispersing the 
members of the Brotherhood, making them a more difficult mark for 
assault by their critics. 

The result resembled a bloodless New Age coup. Suddenly, the 
tiny declining town of Turners Falls, a few miles south of Warwick, 
where only a modest paper mill and numerous deserted shops remained 
as a reminder of its vigorous industrial past, became a mecca for 
musicians, believers, searchers, New Age hucksters and any number 
of other alternative types. New businesses opened, the local theater 
was restored and tie-dye — along with the Confederate ensign favored 
by Metelica, the former Robert E. Lee — became the clothing design du 
jour. With the growth of business, the coming and going of the band, 
the crowds at the group's weekly public meetings at the theater and 
other activity. Turners Falls took on a new vitality. 

The Mind's Eye 1 1 

Thomas Weston Pels 


At this point in his life, however, their success notwithstanding, 
Michael Metelica might well have said, as did another commentator 
on the era, his former neighbor the counter/cultural writer Raymond 
Mungo: "This was not what I had in mind" {Total Loss 1 1 j. Metelica's 
role in this world, as Beth Hapgood firmly suggests, was not to run 
businesses and overly involve himself in the material realm. His gifts 
were spiritual, creative and charismatic. As the Brotherhood 
expanded — building, buying, trading, traveling, recording, counseling, 
feeding, heating — the many activities overseen by Metelica and his 
small core group grew. With that growth came the conflicts built into 
situations in which money, hierarchy, responsibility and management 
play a role. The way some community members saw it, Michael 
Metelica was too central to the Brotherhood for its own health, yet 
too involved in music and other personal pursuits to exett the control 
the organization needed to survive and grow. As Metelica saw it, he 
had to choose between music and community. 

In the end, he had no choice. After thriving for some five years, 
from 1968 to 1973, as the head of a growing spiritual group, and 
another ten, 1 973—1983, during which he was involved in both the 
community and its businesses and his own career in music, Metelica 
reached a parting of the ways with the Brotherhood. Eventually, 
he was forced out. Finances were an issue — the Brotherhood owed 
large amounts of money for health care and other materiaf needs — 
as were matters of lifestyle. After f972, drugs are said to have played 
a role, along with other expensive habits Metelica had developed. 

David James, a journalist who has foftowed the history of the 
Brotherhood, said in a recent conversation. "1 think it began with the 
band. I've heard that the introduction of new band members, outsiders, 
with their expectations of the style of life of touring musicians of the 
sixties and seventies, introduced divisions in the Brotherhood that were 
not easily healed, tf you're eating tofu and beans, and the person next 
to you is eating steak, the difference is obvious" (Fels, Interviews). 

Following Metelica's final departure in 1988, the community 
regrouped. A small portion of it still exists today on its Warwick 
property. Metelica himself interpreted the breakup as a signal to 
continue with his music, though without the financial and moral 
support he had enjoyed from the community he had founded. For 
years tensions between the former leader and the remaining group 

12 The Mind's Hye 

Thomas Weston Pels 

continued to run high. At the time ! interviewed him, Meteiica still 
believed that those who had ousted him would eventually face 
atonement in the larger world of spirit. 

When I asked Metelica, who in the early seventies had renamed 
himself Rapunzel, about those times, about what it was like to leave a 
life in which he was respected, relatively secure and all his needs were 
met, he answered with characteristic directness: "I just walked away 
from it." Indeed, there was little he could do. During the preceding 
ten years, when he had pursued both music and his role in the 
community, he had increasingly faced debilitating circumstances: the 
siings and arrows often directed to those who take it upon themselves 
to make decisions for others, the life of a musician on the road and, 
probably most, important, the drug and alcohol use that had made 
him increasingly ineffective as a leader and a role model among his 
peers. Of the ten years that followed, the 1990s, he said only, "They 
were hell" (Fels, Interviews). 

A Neighbor's Story 

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as a member of a nearby 
farm commune on which I lived for lour years, I had heard some of 
these stories. The growth of the Brotherhood of the Spirit, the tree 
house, the summer in the southern Vermont woods, the dormitory, 
the purchase of properties in Turners Falls were surprising new 
elements in the local counterculture. I had read in the papers about 
the group's problems with the state: How was it, it was asked in Boston, 
that members of an organization whose leader drove a Roils-Royce 
were on welfare? 

By the late 1980s, though, news began to filter out that things at 
the Brotherhood had changed. Turners Falls returned more or less to 
normal, Brotherhood houses and businesses were sold and converted 
to other uses. Eventually, vague tales circulated that Michael Metelica 
was on the street, ill, and clearly without the resources he had once 
commanded. Recently, I thought I would see what had become of 
him. A few phone calls located him. He was happy to talk. 

When I found Mike Metelica in the fall of 2002. he was living in a 
broken-down trailer in the woods of upstate New York, Surrounded 
by aging sound equipment, stacks of unwashed dishes and furniture 
that would probably have been rejected by the Salvation Army, he 
and a friend from Brotherhood days had carved out an existence in 

The Mind's Eye 13 

Thomas Weston Fels 

the unlikely town of Cairo, not far from Woodstock. Along the rough 
dirt road to his house, playful painted elves populated the trees and a 
sign salvaged from a failed motel, no doubt meant to be humorous, 
added a confusing note of dislocation. Chickens and goats roamed the 
yard amid a collection of aging vehicles in varying states of disrepair; 
other trailers and cabins of equally uninspiring demeanor stood nearby, 
it was an astonishing change from the very substantial house that had 
been built for him in Warwick, in addition, he had been diagnosed 
earlier in the year with terminal cancer. 

We talked about the lost years of the eighties and nineties and the 
tension of being forced out of the Brotherhood. 

"Yeah, that's probably where the cancer came from," he said. 

But, f wandered, how had he gotten to that point? When I asked 
him, he recounted the story in some detail. 

"In high school," he said, beginning with the first strand of his 
tale, "you build relationships and then you don't see these people 
anymore, f couldn't understand that. It doesn't really matter why, it 
just really had an effect on me. So I've always been interested in what 
people really felt, what they really were. I felt like if given enough 
time, inevitably, anyone could come to an understanding — anyone. 

"I always wanted to know what I was, what I really was: What 
was I really? I always felt very disconnected from my body. Before I 
could speak, I could understand English, and I knew exactly what 
people were saying. I remember trying to learn to talk and trying to 
get things to come out of my mouth and pronounce words. That was 
really hard. I knew what words meant before I could speak them, and 
I thought to myself, Ho w a m I ever going to be able to make my mo u th 
go with what I'm thinking?" 

"You have memories from that early?" I asked. 

"Oh, I remember being born!" he said. "I remember being taken 
out of my mother, being brought into this world, and the frightening 
thing ol being completely helpless, and wondering how I was going to 
be able to adjust to this body. That was all that occupied my mind, is 
how I would be able to adjust to my body, because it's like a big blob 
on you — it's like a big slow blob on you. You're totally helpless, you 
can't do anything yourself, you have to have the assistance of your 
mother. She takes care of making sure you can breathe. I remember 
lying in the bassinet, and my mother not placing me right, and sleeping 
and wondering if I was going to live through it, because I could barely 
breathe, the way she put me in there. 

14 The Mind s Eye 

Thomas Weston Pels 

"Yeah, I remember everything when I was a kid. When I was three 
years old, I had a vision; I had it again when t was six. It was a vision 
of land rising and falling. I left my body, I left this blob and was able to 
see in a disconnected way this thing being shown to me. I saw it from 
a planetary standpoint, from being away from the planet. I went to 
my mother's room and I said, 'Mom, the world, I saw the world!' I 
remember running down the haliway to tell her that I'd seen this 
thing, because it was so incredible, because it was like I was completely 
free and clear of my body and able to see this thing. I knew it really 
had a lot of importance. But I couldn't express it, and she just went 
back to bed. 

"So I knew there was something beyond just living and going to 
school. A lot of things that I was being taught didn't match what 1 fell 
I was supposed to learn. That's why I felt like the significance of people 
and groups was more important— this scenario of why I was placed 
with these people and what my purpose was with them. 

"At that point, I was acting out. At that time, the 'stubborn child' 
was in, and reform school and all that stuff, if you didn't obey. So my 
mother sent me to my uncle, who was in the Army." 

For a year Metelica lived at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas. He went 
to the base school and for the first time met blacks and the international 
families of servicemen. Still, he continued to be different. 

"I went to Teen Club and they'd beat me up," he said, "come to 
me and smack me in the face because I'd be hanging out with the 
black people. But I said to my black friends, 'Look, I don't care what 
they think; they're not going to come after you, anyway, they're going 
to come after me, so what difference does it make?' It was an education. 
I saw that black people were treated differently. I was noticeable at 
that time, I was definitely noticeable, wherever I was." 

Turning Point 

"At 1 6 I left home," Michael continued, "and went to California." 
He had been attracted to the Hell's Angels, which he perceived as a 
communal organization, only to find it violent and unsavory. "I crossed 
the country and eventually joined the hippies. That movement was 
pretty cool. In 1966 and 1967, that movement was intact. There were 
people out there really believing in this peace-and-love thing. Drugs 
were definitely a part of it. I involved myself in that, I thought that 
was pretty intense. But then I came back and I said, 'I'd like to finally 

The Mind's Eye 15 

Thomas Weston Pels 

just see if 1 can do something on my own principles.' So I built the tree 
house. I had a bunch of friends from different places around the area, 
and 1 had my friends from high school who knew 1 was doing this. 

"I asked this farmer — he had about 1 500 acres — if 1 could live on 
his land, on Blueberry Hill, in Leyden, and wurk for him In exchange, 
f wanted to prove that you could do something for nothing, not always 
getting something in return for what you do, which is still an issue 
with me. You know, getting paid for everything you do, that's not the 
way it should be. I'd prefer to do something for someone to take a 
weight off their back, not to make them have to pay for it." 

As Michael described it. a group grew around the tree house and 
then reached a critical point. 

"The girl I was going with, she liked the idea, and she used to 
come and visit me at the tree house, and then some of my high school 
friends came. Some of them were fiving in the street, anyway, in 
Greenfield, you know, doing drugs and hanging out in the street all 
day, so they came and joined me, they went to work with me. So it 
grew. It never was an intentional community in the beginning. It just 
grew to, like, seven people. 

"But then this girl came that I'd met in Boston. We used to get 
drugs from her. Methadrine was her thing. She came to visit this guy 
that used to shoot speed with her. She didn't like me at all. She had 
been picking blueberries in Canada and she was on her way back to 
Boston. She was gone so far into it, that's why she went up to Canada, 
to try to get away from it, My buddy who did drugs with her told me 
she'd inevitably just go right back to the same thing. It was a matter of 
her either staying or going back and doing drugs — she'd probably kill 

"She didn't like me. She liked the place, though, and f could see in 
a week that her skin was looking better. There was a lightness about 
her, and a change that was significant. And at that point I had to decide. 
She wanted to stay, but she couldn't stand me. So I had to decide 
whether — this was the turning point — whether this was going to be a 
community, this was actually going to be a project, because that became 
apparent. If I were going to take people in who didn't like me, because 
I knew it was helping them, and that'dbe the only reason I'm doing it, 
then it had to be something bigger than just what we were, and that 
was a group of people that really liked each other, basically got along: 
We were friends. 

16 Tke Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Ms 

"That was the turning point, that was the turning point of the 
whole thing. That's when I realized it could be something bigger, 
something that cuuld affect people, change them, help them. Because 
I knew if she went back to Boston, she'd probably die." 


Over that summer of 1968, Metelica's group continued to work 
for the farmer who had originally taken them in. But by fall the group 
had grown larger, and Metelica accepted an offer of winter housing in 
a nearby town in exchange for the work of sugaring its adjoining land 
in the spring. During this first winter, some 28 young people inhabited 
a small farmhouse in Charlemonl, Massachusetts, moving later in the 
winter to the nearby town ot Heath. 

It was about this time that Metelica met Elwood Babbitt. 

"He was a seer," Metelica told me, "a trance medium like Edgar 
Cayce. He was like a guru to me. I met him through my girlfriend's 
mother [Beth]. She was an associate professor at the local community 
college. Elwood convinced me through my own experience. He told 
me of this knowledge that would be available to me as a result of 
something I was seeing, if 1 would pursue it. Here's this guy that reads 
auras, who does readings. I thought it might be worth checking out. I 
had no idea what was going on except that it. sounded really intriguing, 
There are auras around us that he could read. He said that we had 
previous lifetimes, and you could read what a person's state of existence 
was. That was right up my alley; that intrigued me. 

"Well, 1 had this purplish-pink thing that used to appear to me in 
my bed before I'd go to sleep. It wasn't very big. It had color. Elwood 
said it was an emanation of a previous lifetime and that if I fet myself 
go, it would totaffy envelop me and I would go out and experience a 
previous lifetime. So I let this thing get bigger and bigger, and eventually 
it swallowed my head, and I was flying forward out of my body above 
the ocean, On a beach I saw three men talking. I went into the body of 
one of them. I was about seven feet tall, I had black hair. I was a 
revolutionary, but I was also part of the government, I was a traitor to 
them. It turned out that there was this huge tidal wave that came in 
when I went into the body, this huge tidal wave, like a mile high. We 
were all scared. 

"The thing was, it was the same tidal wave I used to have 
nightmares about. Every time my mother and father had a party, I'd 

The MM's Eye 17 

Thomas Weston Fels 

get sick. 1 would puke and I'd get diarrhea, and I would have the same 
recurring dream. So when I saw it this time, I said, 'Oh, my God! That 
thing I've been dreaming all my life!' There was also a fear of water 
involved; ever since that dream, I've never had that fear anymore. 

"So I was convinced about Elwood, because nobody could make 
up this thing, it was so— so terrifying to me. He didn't know that specific 
story, but he knew that if I let this pinkish thing expand 1 would 
experience a previous lifetime. When I used to have these dreams, I'd 
forget about them. I didn't want to remember. But every time they 
had a party, it would happen. If you are terrified enough of something, 
you'll totally blot it out of your mind. This experience brought it back, 
and I said, 'Oh, my God, this is the thing' — it gnaws at me. I used to 
wake up and 1 couldn't remember the dream; now I remembered it. 
That's the thing that did it, that tida! wave. 

"Anyway, that solved a lot of problems. That was the first 
experience ! had with previous lives, and 1 was totally convinced. It 
had nothing to do with proving it to anyone else, it had to do with the 
fact that no one could make it up." 

Prom Metelica's contact with the trance medium Elwood Babbitt 
and with Beth Hapgood, who was working with him, evoived most of 
the central beliefs that came to be held by the Brotherhood of the 
Spirit and promulgated publicly by Metelica and his adherents. In large 
part these were based on a series of trance lectures offered by Babbitt 
in the winter of 1967-1968, which were recorded and privately 
published for use by the community as Wanted: The Good and the Godly. 
In 1970, these texts were amplified in Babbitt's Conversations with Vishnu. 
A selection of both of these was reprinted in 1 997 as a part of Hapgood's 
Dare the Vision. Additional inspiration was found in Levi's The Aquarian 
Gospel, a classic of alternative spiritual culture of the time. 

The principal themes of Wanted: The Good and the Godly, revealed 
through Babbitt by a spirit named Kishamet, echo those of both the 
spiritualist tradition from which they arose and the turbulent times in 
which they arrived. Among those adopted by Metelica and then the 
Brotherhood were the belief that the world had reached a high state 
of corruption, as evidenced especially in its devotion to materialism; 
that civility and mutual respect had broken down, particularly toward 
the young; and that coming cataclysmic changes on the planet would 
force momentous rearrangements of society. The solution, as Metelica 
encouraged his followers to see, was to break with history, live in self- 

is The Minds Eye 

Thomas Weston Fels 

sufficient separation and, by focusing on eternal, spiritual values, use 
positive energy to work toward the creation of a new renaissance in 
human affairs. "Our purpose," says Kishamet in Wanted: The Good and 
the Godly, "is to help those who seek, yet do not understand, as well as 
. . , those believing in the antiquated creeds that so long ago brought 
no answers," The tools for this, adds Billy Rojas, included recognition 
of "the authentic powers of the mind, powers to heal oneself and 
others and lo communicate across space and time" — abilities attributed 
by many of his followers to Michael Metelica, and which he in turn 
encouraged in them (5-6), 

In addition, other themes prevalent in the sixties and seventies 
were evident in the beliefs of the Brotherhood, Among them were the 
importance of creativity; peace, love, friendship and trust; living in 
nature; and a more diffuse but influential attention to such purported 
phenomena as vibrations and reincarnation. 

A New Home 

After their winter in Heath, where they had moved following a 
disagreement with the owner of the farmhouse in Charlemont, the 
community relocated once again, this time to land adjoining a small 
primitive alternative community living in tepees and shacks on a 
meadow in Guilford, Vermont, not far from Metefica's home in Leyden. 
They built essential shelter and survived, for the summer of 1969, 
largely outdoors, In the fall, with the community now numbering 
almost 80, Metelica arranged to return to Heath, where they were 
given the use of a summer camp for the winter. As had become his 
way, Metelica asked only those who believed in him and the mission 
of the group to go with him; all but four did. 

"So we spent the winter up there," he said, "80 of us crammed 
into a place twice as wide and about as long as this trailer. At the end 
of the winter, early in 1970, I said, 'Look, you got any trust funds or 
anything like that?' I said, 'Why don't you see what we can come up 
with for money and we'll buy a place.' So these two older women 
who had joined the community — they were in their 40s — they posed 
as the buyers. We pulled together $20,000 and put it down, and after 
a long struggle, a lot of suspicion and communication breakdown, we 
got this pla ce in Warwick. It wa s, like, 1 5 acres, and it had been a club, 
98-persoo capacity, though in no way would it ever pass for that. It 

The Mind "i Eye 19 

Thomas Weston Fels 

didn't have a sewer system or anything, but it was still legal. So we 
started there. We built this huge building and that's where the thing 
sort of came together. About a year from that point, we had 250 people. 
Later we split up and started buying places. We got off welfare — we 
got that law passed, We had a lot of fights with the town about the 
water and the sewer tests, but we managed to pass them all. 

"That was when the band started — Spirit in Flesh. This woman 
came up and visited a friend of mine and I put this makeshift band 
together. I always had bands in high school, 1 always had a band here 
or there, f was singing, anyway. This woman came up and said, T 
really believe you can be somebody.' She heard me sing and play. She 
was in musk. She had a hit out in the sixties, and she married a 
millionaire. She was visiting a friend up in Massachusetts, and she just 
fell in love with what she thought I could be. She just happened to 
really like my voice, and thought I was going to be someone; it was 
that ridiculous. So that's how the band got started." 

"But then you really pursued it," 1 prompted him. I remembered 
the sudden emergence of a music scene in Turners Falls. "You had 
equipment and everything else you needed." 

"Yeah, yeah," he said, "because where there's people, there's always 
going to be money. The members brought money, too. It was coming 
in all the time. Basically, if you joined, you were joining the group, 
and whatever you had you would contribute to the group. It was up 
to you to be honest; no one was going to pursue you to find out what 
you had. 

"That band lasted about three years. We played Carnegie Hall. Filled 
it. We put posters all over New York City. We plastered the West Side 
Highway. Our people went down there and got on top of the van, and 
put a ladder on top of that, and got up there and put up posters. It was 
a big, big, big thing. Those guys did that in one night. There was a 
lawsuit against us, and whatever. Big controversy." 

"I was in Europe in 1970," I said. "I remember there were posters 
there." I remembered other incidents from that era as well. There had 
been a guerrilla effort at promotional tactics that included not only 
posters and handbills throughout the country, and a march in New 
York, but organized mass disruptions of the television shows of Dick 
Cavett and Johnny Carson. At the same time, they were attracting the 
journalistic attention of 60 Minutes and David Frost. As Dan Brown 
quotes from The Village Voice in 1971, one of the group's many reviews 

20 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Pels 

Michael Metelica, t.1969 

Early homes of the Brotherhood of the Spirit, Leyden, MA, 1969 

Except where noted, photos courtesy of Elizabeth Hapgood Papers, Special Collections, 
W.E.B. DuBois Library, University of Massachusetts, Ambnst. 

The Mind's Eye 21 

Dormitory built by Brotherhood, c.1972 

Thomas Weston fcls 

The Mind s Bye 23 

Thomas Weston Pels 

Michael Metelica on cycle, c. 1.972 
24 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Fels 

Michael Metelica, Cairo, NY, 2002 

The Mind's Eye 25 

Thomas Weston Fels 

that mix annoyance with admiration: "'These morons are production 
geniuses'" {Chronological History 1). 

"Right. Right. Right. Yeah,* continued Michael, speaking of the 
posters. "But that band never was — well, it was, like, me. 1 had to run 
the whole thing. It was like, if I didn't motivate it, there was nothing 
there. It wasn't a band by itself. It played music, but I didn't feel 
included. So inevitably it just fell apart. 

"A little later, I put together another band. We had a music store, 
and it attracted some good musicians. I practiced with them for at 
least eight hours a night for, like, six months. Then we went out and 
played. We were drawing, like, 2000 to 9000 people in no time. We 
would rent a park, we'd get a permit for two nights. The tirst time we 
played, we'd draw, like, a hundred, 150 people. The next time it would 
be, like, 500 to 600 people, and then the next time we played there'd 
be thousands of people. It was quite the thing. We did all upstate New 
York, all this area. 

"That was a total success. The band quit because they were getting 
scared. It was becoming a real phenomenon. But it was great. I proved 
I could do something if I had the right people working with me, people 
that really wanted to work with me. I was happy with that. Let it go 
at that." 

Expansion and Change 

Between tours, however, all was not great. 

"At this point, we had already built a huge dormitory," he recalled, 
"We had 300 people the second year ai Warwick, and we decided to 
spread out. We bought houses in town so there would be diversity, 
and there wouldn't be one single target. But in 1973 I came back from 
California after doing an album and I said to the people, I said, 'Look, 
every time I leave, the whole thing falls into arguing. The core group 
can't get along, and that's who I left in charge.' So I said, 'Either I'm 
quitting the band or I'm going to pursue the music and you can do 
your own thing, you can have this place and you guys can work it out. 
I don't care. I've got a future. But if you want to stay here with me, 
I'm going to be like a dictator and you are going to do what I say.' We 
were, like, $3000 a week in debt, practically. We were going into the 
red and we needed to do something. We had a lot of people. It don't 
take very much to get into debt — debts mounting up and no way to 
pay them. Hospital bills. We had, like, 20 or 30 grand in hospital bills— 

26 The Mind's Eyt 

Thomas Weston Fels 

I don't remember exactly — and they come after the group. You always 
got people coming after you. 

"So I said, 'You have two weeks to think about this, because this 
isn't going to be no joke.' I projected the worst on them, the worst I 
possibly could. I wanted to let them know it wasn't going to be no 
party if they chose me. After two weeks, they all agreed, so I said, 
'Okay, everybody is going to work. Everybody who possibly can is 
going to get a job. And those that can't get one are going to help people 
get to work and things like that.' 

"Well, we went to work. We bought houses in Turners Falls. We 
bought a whole block in Turners Falls, the main block in town. That's 
where we started getting creative. We bought, like, three more houses 
over the course of a year. In 1 976 we bought 80 more acres in Gill. In 
1973 1 had changed the name of the community to Metelica's Aquarian 
Concept — a new corporation, I wrote up this 60-page thing, questions — 
you had to answer them right, basically, to become a prospective 
member, and you had to stay at the place a couple weeks or a month. 
Because if you became a member, you were committing yourself to 
the group. Right or wrong, you would contribute to the group, which 
was through me, and I would decide what direction we were going to 
go. I had a core group I listened to. A lot of those people were original 
members, but there were also people who came in that were, I felt, 
worthy of — who had experience in different areas of working with 
people, and so 1 used them to make decisions, too, about what we 
would do next. So we started all these different businesses and things. 
We made two documentary films on this." 

He suggested I borrow them, and I did. 

"Great," he said. "You'll see everything, 'cause everything is in them." 
Matters of Life and Death 

"So I went on with the music." he said. " 1 made a couple of albums, 
one I'm just going to put out now. It's a country album I made. I used 
various musicians that I had available to me at the time. 

"I've got somebody that can shop it around for me. I've just got to 
get it out there. Since I got this cancer thing, if I feel too tired, I don't 
do it. It's slowing the process. But I've got everything basically all 
together. I put it on CD. I'll play you a couple songs from it." 

As he put on the CD, he returned to our conversation. 

"At the Brotherhood, "he continued, "they wanted to settle down. 
We bought the 80 acres in Gill, in a real nice country setting, and we 

The Mind's Eye 27 

Thomas Weston Fels 

formed the Renaissance Community. We were granted official church 
status by the IRS. But eventually they overrode me. They didn't want 
to do what I wanted to do anymore, so I basically split and went through 
a ten-year depression. 

"Since I got cancer I got well over 200 phone calls, all my enemies 
from those days calling and saying they really love me. I knew it 

"Still," I said, "when you got sick, I would think that would have 
changed things, that you would look at everything through new eyes." 

"Well," he said, "it's a continuation. I believe I'll jusi be walking 
into the next room. I'm not afraid of dying at all. It's a question of 
whether I have a purpose here, still. I'm one little speck on this planet, 
I mean, being this little nothing. If they need me, I'm on the floor, you 
know, I'm all for sticking around. I'm all for doing whatever I have to 
do to get better, within reason. But I'm not going to take all this 
radiation treatment and stuff like that. I'm not doing that. I'll take 
chemotherapy to a certain degree, which I'm doing now. It's working 
well enough— at least the pain is not so intense as it was. It's no fun, 
this stuff, to say the least." 

After he adjusted the sound equipment, two very loud songs came 
through : "Something Greater than Man" and "There Exists a Fine Line." 
The songs had overtly religious and existential themes. 

"I hear some Johnny Cash," I said, 

"Yeah, people say that." he replied. "Not really. Nothing influenced 

I had heard that when she had first found out that he was ill, Beth 
Hapgood had organized a great celebration of Michael for relatives 
and friends, not knowing whether he would live long enough to attend. 

"Did you make it to that get-together in Greenfield last summer?" 
1 asked, 

"Oh, yeah, I went to my own funeral," he said. "Of course!" He 
laughed. "That was fun." 

"When you see these people," I asked, "when you look back on 
the things you've done, what is it that sticks with you?" 

"The whole thing that I conclusively came to," he said, "is I believe 
we are living in a time where — going back to that vision at three years 
old — we're going into a time where there's going to be some sort of 
astral shift, some sort of a major change in the planet that's going to 
affect us. We are going to have to make a move. At that point, groups 

28 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Pels 

will form, barter systems will come into being, because things are not 
going to be easy to get anymore. 1 believe we're going into a time that — 
when Bush rings the bell over there in Iraq"— this was shortly before 
the recent war — "he's going to set off some things at home that he wished 
he hadn't. Because there is going to be so much to take care of here. 
California is supposed to fall into the sea. There's some kind of a major 
electromagnetic planetary thing that exists in Florida; something to do 
with the balance of the planet comes out of there. That's where you got 
the Bermuda Triangle. Something to do with our planetary thing, 
magnetism or whatever — so Florida is going to get hit, too. 

"And there's another message. People have to realize that God 
needs to come into their life. They need to look to outer forces for 
strength, not just face their problems head-on, physically. If they open 
the door, they can make things happen. With all the hypocrisy in the 
world today, you need guidance to get through." 

I asked if the way we had all lived back then offered a model for 
the new era he foresaw. 

"Well," he said, "the sixties themselves were a change, Now we're 
in, like, a paradigm, you know? It's Uke it just changed again. We're 
keeping up with it. It's like: 'Peace and love, yeah, that's the way to 
go,' It's like we already knew. We just woke up and we knew when 
that was being said, when that became an anthem, that it was the one 
to follow. That's the same kind of paradigm that we're in now, finally. 
The eighties and nineties: Don't ask me what they were about— just a 
terrible, terrible tune." 

"Well," I responded," 1 think one of the questions that people from 
our era are curious about is: We all knew about that paradigm, and yet 
the world seems to have gone back the other way. What was that 
all about?" 

"Good question. At least now we've gone back to the sixties, we're 
not in the fifties. We've definitely been through a cleansing process. 
Everybody knows where they are at. If you are a villain, you know 
you are a villain, and you accept it. If you really don't want to be one, 
then you've already decided that, too. 

"That's what's happening to us, because everyone I know, that 
I've talked to since I got sick, we've ail been through the same thing, a 
really traumatic cleansing process, terrible times, wondering a lot about 
ourselves but having to swim alone. It's like you are so preoccupied 
trying to keep afloat yourself, you really couldn't do a damn thing to 
help anybody else. 

The Mind's Eye 29 

Thomas Weston Pets 

"Now we're coming out of thai, we're getting a little bit more 
freedom to look around and begin to communicate again, f believe 
we'll find that — it's something to do with this whole thing that Bush is 
doing with Iraq. That's going to open it up. As things become really 
apparent, that we're in a real dilemma, then people will pull together. 
We already know what the problem is, the problem is very clear. We 
have a basis 10 communicate again, to begin our communication, and 
we're going to find out that we all feel a lot alike. That will set the 
whole thing off." 

" So, looki ng back, " f said, "the tree house, the Brotherhood, Turners 
Falls, the band — these are all things that promoted use of your energy, 
and you just continue to do that." 

"Have to, yeah, As long as I'm here, I'm going to try to make the 
most of it. But what I'm constantly being told in this situation, and it's 
very, very clear, is: 'Look, slow down, keep a focus. Keep an awareness 
of what you want to do. Keep your goals, but you are going to do it 
slowly.' I'm forced to do that. I mean, if I get real sick, I'm in the bed 
and I can't do anything, and that's it for the day. So for me, and I 
believe it's probably true for everybody else, the key is focus. Be 
aware of what you are doing, but do it slowly. It's refreshing. This 
whole thing that something has got to get done at a given time, or that 
you've got to do something so you can get to the next thing — that 
picture is out. That way of doing things is gone. That's a hard one for 
me, it reaily is. It doesn't care how slow, it just says, 'Slow, slow.'" 

I asked about his medical care. 

"I've got the best doctors you can get. I told them what I want and 
what I don't want. They're listening, I said, 'It's not a matter of me 
dying; I'm not afraid of that, if you think just keeping me living is 
what I want.' No, I don't want to live a painful existence. If I have to 
go through a lot of pain, I'd rather be in the next dimension, I'm not 
afraid to die. I've done a lot that I wanted to do. 1 don't feel I'm going 
to end up very dissatisfied, feeling that 1 did wrong to other people. I 
don't feel I have. 

"Obviously, when you get close to death, and your body is telling 
you that, you really do scrutinize yourself. You take a good look: What 
do f lack? What didn't I do? I don't have that problem, I feel f treated 
everybody fair. I did the best I could with what I had, what I knew, 
and that's all you can do." 

30 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Fels 

Another Side of the Story 

Over the next few months, over the winter of 2002-2003, 1 visited 
with Metelica. We would talk, and he would share what he was up to: 
building a painting studio, working on his CD, fixing some piece of 
furniture, raising tiny goats to carry hikers' packs. To me, he always 
seemed remarkably active and strong for someone seriously ill, but 
over a period of time, he confessed to slowing down a bit. It was, after 
all, more than half a year beyond what he had called his own funeral. 

For him, death was part of a much larger continuum. 

"Oh, yeah, I feel like I've already died and went through the tunnel 
before," he said, referring to an experience in an automobile accident. 
"I've reviewed my life, so I already know how I feel even in spirit. It's 
like walking from one room into the next, that's all it is. There's no 
fantastic thing about it. You're totally conscious; the only difference is 
you have nothing binding you to the earth any longer. " 

I knew from earlier conversations that Michael could look back in 
detail on his lifetime. I asked if he could look back into other lifetimes, 
or ahead. 

"Oh, you can look into past lifetimes," he said "The future is a little 
different, it's projected. If we hold a conviction that's very strong, it will 
impress itself on our future direction. That's what a gypsy is reading, or 
a psychic: the intentions that are projected through your soul as to what 
you probably will do, your convictions." 

Convictions were certainly Michael's strong suit. From the beginning, 
the Brotherhood had provoked a strongly mixed response. Some believed 
Michael to be a visionary, while others thought him crazy, misguided 
and highly manipulative, even a charlatan. The role of New Age spiritual 
executive he had adopted set him beyond the place where he might ask 
for help. 

1 remi tided him that he had been aware of this higher world from 
early on. 

"Yes," he said, "but until I met Beth and Elwood, I thought everyone 
was going through the same thing. At the time, I felt my consciousness 
was developed, but you know, I don't feel I've really grown since I've 
been 1 5 years old. I don't really feel like I've been cha Uenged by anything 
new. Everything I've experienced was something that I already knew. I 
haven't really had any surprises." 

I tried to imagine living in this sort of world. I couldn't. But when I 
looked at the life he had created for himself, his remarks did make some 

The Mind's Eye 1\ 

Thomas Weston Fels 

sense. The crazy place, the trailer, the deer head on the wall, the mirrors, 
the sound equipment, the computer games, the music, the Playboy 
magazines, the elves in the trees: When he said he hadn't grown since 
he was 1 5, I thought that was actually a pretty good description of his 
state of mind. 

Of course, to someone like Michael Metelica, the material realm is 
irrelevant. What he had said helped me understand something 1 had 
been wondering about spiritually and artistically involved people: Why 
did I always find them in trailers, in the woods, at the edge of cliffs, in 
grotty apartments, on worn-out sofas in end-of-the-road clothes? To be 
frank: They don't care. They answer to different lorces; matters such 
as appearance and comfort don't count. 

To others, though, they do count, and the accounts of other 
commentators concerning the growth and progress of both Michael 
and the Brotherhood sound quite different from his own. 

In the 1997 book Communal Organization and Social Transition, a 
thorough study by sociologist Barry Laffan, a rather unflattering image of 
Michael and his compatriots emerges. Beginning in the spring of 1 970, as 
part of his graduate work, Laffan lived as a participant-observer in a 
neighboring commune. Though acknowledging the Brotherhood's strong 
early emphasis on group solidarity and individual honesty, Laffan records 
an increasingly strident, partisan tone in its activities, a strong inclination 
toward heavy-handed manipulation of members by their leaders and 
something that sounds as much like expediency as spiritual principle in 
the ordering of the group's affairs. In Lallan's view, Michael and his 
lieutenants leveraged group yearnings into collective dependency and 
translated their own taste for feats of daring into a series of daunting tasks 
billed as initiation but more accurately serving as a kind of humbling 
exposure for the initiate. To Laffan. the Brotherhood seemed to believe it 
had "an answer for everything." Its self-serving qualities, he notes, often 
led it to be excluded by other more public-spirited alternative communities. 
"They were pigs! " a member of Laffan's sixties commune said to me recently. 
"I couldn't understand; why would you want to follow someone like that?" 

Among the key figures in Laffan's study is Roy, a lieutenant of Michael's 
from his core group who had directorial duties during their stay in Guilford, 
Vennont. Roy, with whom I later spoke, is an intriguing figure, an aspiring 
leader blocked from attaining that goal by a combination of ego conflict 
with Michael and aspects of his own personality. Today he makes his 

32 The Mind s Eye 

Thomas Weston Fels 

living as a craftsman and builder, though he is still much involved in the 
spiritual life, as he was 30 years ago, even before joining the Brotherhood 
of the Spirit, Having become connected to the group at its earliest, most 
spiritually oriented stage, he was affronted by its move into more personal 
and material concerns: rock music, real estate, retail business. As the group 
and its leader developed more strongly in these directions, he chose to 
leave. He sees succeeding waves of difficulties in the Brotherhood largely 
as further outgrowths of its original abandonment of spiritual principles. 
Many others do as weil, 

A closer look, and my talks with Michael, led me lo think that the 
picture was more complex. Even in its early days, when Roy first joined, 
the group that would become the Brotherhood had involved itself in 
risky, high-stakes, physically and psychologically extreme behavior, 
and later continued to accept it from its leader, For a group that 
propounded abstinence in drug use and sex, there seemed to be a lot 
of both. For a communal effort striving to live in peace and love, its 
history revealed a remarkable number of crises, Including striking 
moments of interpersonal and societal conflict, devastating fires and 
even murder. (In a crime that has never been solved, Peter Lubin, a 
member of the Brotherhood, was killed, probably by vigilantes, while 
hitchhiking along a local highway,) When I explored the role ol drug 
use with Michael, his response was that if used correctly, drugs were 
an aid to creativity. Citing time in the studio with Peter, Paul and Mary 
and other groups in which joints and lines of coke were set out 
regularly on the amps (puffing "the magic dragon"), fie said simply, 
"Drugs and music go together." A counselor to others on central issues 
in their lives, he himself, 1 noted, had six children by six different 

In later days, life at the community was increasingly chaotic. Dan 
Brown recounts that in 1 973 alone, Metelica appropriated the wedding 
gifts of a member couple to buy himself a sports car; vigilantes murdered 
Lubin and committed other acts against the group (their cars were 
regularly run off the road); and an odd set of marches in nearby towns 
in November 1983 repelled rather than attracted supporters. In 
addition, Metelica changed his name to Rapunzel and. took to appearing 
in the costume of a transvestite elf. During the same year, he had the 
first of several serious automobile accidents. In the course of all this, 
he had time to devise a new caste system whereby community members 
lived in separate houses according to their estimated level of spiritual 

The Mmd'sEye 33 

Thomas Weston Fels 

awareness and were identified as such by different-colored sweaters: 
white, maroon and brown. (This was reportedly very divisive.) 
Members of the community were also encouraged to learn German 
and French, as plans were being considered to move the entire group 
to Europe. 

Demons and Dreams 

In light of this varied picture, I had to ask myself what this was all 
about: the man, the commune, the followers, the spiritual beliefs — 
the life of this self-declared prophet. To some extent, it appeared to me 
to be substantially a question of psychology. In a 1975 film about 
Metelica's mentor Elwood Babbitt, Voices of Spirit, Babbitt's mother 
relates that her son, when young, had exhibited a split personality 
"like Dr, Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde" — similar, I would guess, to Michael's 

In another sphere, the confluence of forces surrounding the 1960s 
cerrainly played a role. This era provided the spiritual background, 
climate for social change, freedom of movement and free-flowing 
resources that allowed the Brotherhood to take shape as a larger 
organization. At one point, the income of the Brotherhood was 
estimated at $ 1 0,000 a week. According to Brown, after the group's return 
to work in 1 973, the piles of dollar bills in the group's — Metelica's — "money 
room" reached up to his chest (Brown, Fine Line 7). 

It also seemed to have had something to do with the process of 
growing up. While hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people had 
passed through the Brotherhood and the Renaissance Community and 
benefited from it, over the 20 years Michael was involved, his own life 
had somehow been allowed to be put on hold while he played out the 
public role that was expected of him. The price he paid for living out 
his private life in public was, in part, the neglect of his own personal 
health and growth. 

The result was a set of immense contradictions. While Michael 
blithely saw Carnegie Hall as full, others reported it only half full, with 
the audience comprised largely of the Brotherhood and its friends. 
The cataclysms he foresaw as harbingers of a new age were 
countercultural news more than 30 years old. His dreams and night- 
mares bespoke problems of this world more than another. His fanta- 
sies, real and moving to him, had a self-fulfilling Disney or Peter Pan- 
like quality redolent of the sixties. Things do come true, after all, if we 
make them. When he had crossed the country at 16 to visit California, 

34 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Feb 

the car trip was marred by mechanical troubles. How was it that some- 
one who believed he could see into the future and the past couldn't 
tell that Ms own automobile needed to be fixed? 

But such examples were minor infringements. It was Metelka's 
devolution from mentor to a painful hell of drug use, debt, snarling 
dogs and guns that provided the unexpected denouement to his highly 
successful career as a spiritual leader. (It was Metelka's insistence on 
building a firing range at the community in 1983 that finally convinced 
Brown that he had to leave. His living quarters at the time were seen 
by some members as a sort of "Alamo," a last, armed stand against a 
hostile world.) The irony was, as Beth Hapgood pointed out, that while 
Michael was in part of his life a finely tuned spiritual leader — and for 
her a hero of the era — he was in another part just a normal person. 
"Like everyone else," she said, "he got caught up in those times" (Pels, 

In the end, I thought that what happened to Michael Metelica 
was something not at all uncommon. There are any number of 
examples in our current era alone — people caught up in escaping their 
past, in buying themselves out of their failings, leaders turned victims 
of events that have mounted beyond their control. At dark moments, 
members like Dan Brown see that their experience could well have 
taken a turn similar to those of the followers of other gurus of their 
time: Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh. 

Such figures often have positive attributes in common as well: the 
skills that have gotten them where they are. They are inspirational, 
and creative directors of people and resources. They are willing to adapt 
to circumstances. When I looked at Michael's life, I saw an astonishing 
array of roles and a wide range of failure and success. Looking through 
Beth's photo albums, 1 saw Michael as a charismatic leader (speaking 
in a crowded church), minister (marrying a couple, wearing a clerical 
collar) and rock musician (wild onstage). He was also a counselor and 
parental figure to those at the Brotherhood, as well as the youthful 
cutup of his earlier years, an identity that continued to surface from 
time to time. At other points he was politician, entrepreneur, strategist, 
diplomat, corporate president and friend. 

This was a large number of mantles for a young man to carry, one 
who never finished high school and whose principal occupations were 
farmer, mystic and musician. But, as I continued to visit, I found that 
he really hadn't changed. At Cairo, he was building facilities for a new 
community that he hoped would succeed him. He continued to talk 

The Mind's Eye 35 

Thomas Weston Fels 

about his paradigm for a new New Age, drawn from the sixties, which 
he believed was on the verge of arriving. "We're the bohemians of the 
next change," he said, a colorful but largely correct description of how 
such movements progress. He asked me to visit again the next summer, 
but I wondered if the future he pictured with such confidence might 
be only a dream. 

He was still committed, he was not giving up — and he was still 
capable of a surprise. 

"You know," he said to me one day in the early winter of 2003, 
"I'd like to take something as far as you can take it, develop a whole 
new community, take it to a higher level. I feel like I want, 1 still would 
like — I'd love to run the Philippines," he announced. 

I was astonished. "Really? Why?" I asked. "Do you think they 
need help?" 

"Of course they need help!" he said. "With all the poor people, 
how can they not need help? I'd like to show people what could be 
done. I'd like to be the leader, the president of a country. I'm not going 
to do it, I can't do it, but I'd like to." 

He had a plan: New casinos would produce profit that would be 
used to help the poor, 

"That's what I would do. Introduce sharing: show that you could live. 
I'd bring the whole thing up to where everybody was happy, everybody 
was able to be taken care of, then we'd get into the spiritual thing." 

The contradictions were also still on display. 

"We'd have a Havana there, like the Mafia did," he went on. 

"That doesn't bother you?" I asked. "Gambling, prostitution? You 
wouldn't try to control that aspect of it?" 

"No, no, The only thing is, there can't be lots of murders and all that. 

"When I say I'd like to be in leadership of the Philippine Islands, 
to turn that around, I know what I'm dealing with. I know I could do 
this and do it well, because of my experience in the past, Large numbers 
of people, even a million, that's not out of my realm. That's the way I 
feel. You can't make that up, either, 'cause there are times when you 
think about — when you feel weak and think of something like that 
that you'd like to do. It seems impossible, and you wonder, 'How can 
I think that?' you know, 'cause it's, like, so overwhelming, what you're 
actually dealing with. If I felt like that on a regular basis, then (wouldn't 
even think of doing such a thing. But I don't. I feel like on a regular 
basis I could do that." 

And I think he did believe that he could. 

36 The Mind's Eye 

Thomas Weston Ms 

"I have a drive within me to add dimension, add enlightenment, 
add to the vitality of a generation coming up," he had said to the 
assembled Brotherhood in one of the videos I had borrowed 

I didn't want to be the one to tell him that the Philippines is made 
up of more than 70 million people spread over 7000 islands. I did go 
so far as to say that I thought he would need a boat, or perhaps the 
plane of his Brotherhood days. He laughed. But before we could pursue 
the conversation any further, I got the call from Beth: He was recalled 
to the world of spirit. He had passed through the final door. If 1 wanted 
to speak with him, I would have to wait till our next encounicr. 


Bellah, Robert, et al. Habits of the Heart: "Individualism and Commit- 
ment in American Life." New York; Harper, 19S6. 

Brown, Dan, Chronological History of the Renaissance Community: "Family 
Edition." Archival material, typescript, 1999. 

. There Exists a Fine Line: "Michael Metelica and the Renaissance 

Community." Archival material, typescript, 1997. 

Collier, James Lincoln. "Communes: Togetherness, Sixties Style." True 
Apr. 1969. 

DeFanti, Mark. "An Examination of Communal Living: A Case Study 
of the Renaissance Church Community." Thesis. Amherst Col- 
lege, 1991. 

Dick stein, Morris. Gates of Eden: 'American Culture in the Sixties." New 
York: Basic, 1977. 

The Mind's Eye 37 

Thomas Weston Fels 

Fels, Thomas Weston. "Economy: Thoreau at the Turn of the Millen- 
nium." The Mind's Eye Fall 2001. 

. Interviews with Michael Metelica, Beth Hapgood and David 

James. Archival material, typescript, 2002-2003. 

. "Narrative of Surprising Conversions: Irv in New York." The 

Mind's Eye Spring 2003. 

Frazier, Reid. "1960s Communes in Southern Vermont." Thesis. U of 
Vermont, 2002. 

Greenfield Recorder. Ongoing coverage, 196S ff. 

Hapgood, Beth. 88 Main Street. Greenfield, MA: Hapgood, 1993. 

, ed. Dare the Vision and Endure: "Lectures Received from the 

Temple of the Masters Through the Mediumship of E. B." Green- 
field, MA: One World, 1997. 

Hapgood, Charles H. Voices of Spirit: "Through the Psychic Experience 
of Elwood Babbitt." New York: Delacorte, 1975. 

Houriet, Robert. Getting Sack Together. New York: Avon, 1971. 

James, David, fit the Spirit: "Varieties of Spiritual Experience in the 
Franklin County Area of Western Massachusetts." Greenfield, 
MA: Delta, 2002. 

Jerome, Judson. Families of Eden: "Communes and the New Anarchism." 
New York: Seabury, 1974. 

Laff an, Barry. Communal Organization and Social Transition . " A C ase Study 
from the Counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies." New York: 
Lang, 1977. 

Levi (Levi H. Dovvling). The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. Los An- 
geles: De Vorss, 1969. 

Mungo, Raymond. Beyond the Revolution: "My Life and Times Since 
Famous Long Ago." Chicago: Contemporary, 1990. 

. Total Loss Farm. New York: Bantam, 1971. 

38 TheMmdSEye 

Thomas Weston Pels 

Phillips, Derek L. Looking Backward; "A Critical Appraisal of 
Communitarian Thought." Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1993. 

Rojas, Billy. The Brotherhood of the Spirit. Archival material, typescript., 

Shattuck, Louise, and David James. Spirit and Spa: "A Portrait of Body, 
Mind and Soul of a 133-Year-Old Spiritualisl Community in 
Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts." Greenfield, MA: Delta, 2003. 


Dudelheim, Hans. The Renaissance and The Renaissance Community. Turn- 
ers Falls, MA: Renaissance Church, 1976. 

Keller, Dan. Voices of Spirit: "A Psychic Detective Story." Turners Palls, 
MA: Green Mountain Post, 1976. 


Metelica. Time and Time Again/Train. 45 . Corn, 1973, 
Spirit in Flesh. LP. Metromedia, 1971. 

The Mind's Eye 39 

Nathaniel Hawthorne as 
Art Critic: 

The Italian Experience and 
The Marble Faun 

By Tony Gengarelly 

As a recent trip I took to Italy confirmed, the land of art and 
fine cuisine has become one of the premier tourist attractions 
on the globe. This love of the Italian peninsula is not a recent 
phenomenon, however. Following the Renaissance, Italy became an 
essential stop on the Grand Tour undertaken by sons of the wealthy 
to finish their education. Visual and literary artists also visited Italy 
to complete their classical and artistic training or simply to find in- 
spiration from its beautiful countryside and ancient ruins. By the 
middle of the 19th century, the advent of faster boat travel brought 
even more people to join the swelling numbers. Americans were 
among this fast-growing itinerant population that included Nathaniei 
Hawthorne, his wife. Sophia, and family, who, during 1858, visited 
Rome during the winter months and spent a halcyon summer in 

40 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gengarelly 

The major literary accomplishment from Hawthorne's sojourn in 
Italy—actually written In England— is his novel The Marble Faun (pub- 
lished in 1859). In this Italian "romance," Hawthorne draws heavily 
on personal encounters recorded in his journals, as he carefully de- 
tails the environs of Rome's Pincian gardens, Piazza del Popolo, the 
old Forum and Colosseum, the Pantheon, the interior of St. Peter's 
Basilica and the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside. Along with his own 
observations, Hawthorne's perceptions about the art he describes are 
based on his interaction with the expatriate American art commu- 
nity—especially the sculptors Hiram Powers and William Wetmore 
Story (fig. 1). 

The novel's conceptual message involves a journey from inno- 
cence to consciousness. In the opening paragraphs, Hawthorne intro- 
duces Donatello as a spirit of nature. His ancestral home in the Tuscan 
countryside, Monte Beni, has for generations housed a family in 
direct communion with nature; he is a living embodiment of the 

Figure I: William Wetmore Story in his studio in Rome, 1865 

The Mind's Eye 41 

Tony Gengarelly 

pastoral ideal. Donatello, the last count of Monte Beni, has come to 
Rome and met up with a group of artists, two Americans and one of 
mysterious origins, who find a remarkable resemblance between him 
and the marble Faun of Praxiteles at the Capitoline Museum (fig. 2). 
Indeed, it is thought that Donatello even has the faun's pointed ears 
hidden beneath his myriad, black curls. This coincidental connection 
is apt on another level, too. Although the group admires Donatello's 
physical beauty and lively spirit, he is considered, like the Faun, to be 
a creature of woods and fieids, half man and half animal, not a fully 
developed human being. He is viewed as 'a pet dog," an "underwiued" 
person trapped in "happy ignorance" (Hawthorne 14-19). As the story 
unfolds, Donatello murders a strange and frightening specter— in 

Figure 2: Faun of Praxiteles, fourth century b.c. 

42 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gengardly 

reality a Capuchin monk — who has been persecuting his beloved 
Miriam, the painter of mysterious origins. His crime or fall from in- 
nocence into consciousness is the beginning of Donatello's moral, 
hence human, development that unfolds as the story winds to its 
tragic climax. The other characters, as well, the innocent Hilda, the 
enigmatic Miriam and even the sculptor-narrator Kenyon experience 
different levels of heightened awareness of what it means to be hu- 
man as a result of Donatello's crime. Hawthorne uses art to advance 
this theme ol the "fortunate (all" and in the process touches on as- 
pects of art criticism that invite some reflection about his understand- 
ing of the visual art he confronted while in Italy.' 

The Chiaroscuro of Existence 

For Hawthorne, the good picture is the one that reveals truth: 
"The individual work is judged according to the degree [to] which it 
possesses a unifying life and light" ("Nathaniel" 187). Yet there is a 
paradox inherent in Hawthorne's view: The work must be sincere, 
but if sincere it is likely to express too much, the harlot will be substi- 
tuted for the Madonna." In other words, "expressive art has the ad- 
vantage uf authenticity, but what it expresses may be too dangerous 
to confront" ("Nathaniel" 220). In The Marble Fawn, Hawthorne en- 
gages this paradox by setting innocence against consciousness, light 
versus shade, with the characters ol Hilda and Miriam. 

Hilda, the puritanical American painter who gave up any ambi- 
tion to pursue her own art in order to become an interpreter of the 
divine masters she so admires, is a copyist, and in her successive imi- 
tations of artistic prototypes she often penetrates to the essence of the 

If a picture had darkened into an indistinct shadow, through 
time and neglect . . . she seemed to possess the faculty of 
seeing it in its pristine glory. ... In some instances, even . . . 
she had been enabled to execute what the great Master had 
conceived in his imagination, but had not so perfectly suc- 
ceeded in putting upon canvas. (50) 

This divinely inspired innocence is reinforced by Hilda's connection 
to the shrine of the virgin that she dutifully maintains in her "dove 

I - The above contains excerpts from Gengarelly 4] -43 . 

The Mind's Eye 43 

Tony Gengarelly 

coat" several stories above the sordid Roman streets. Purity and white- 
ness attend her throughout the novel as she strikes through the dark- 
ened images she copies to the light of their original inspiration, com- 
bined, perhaps, with her own imaginative vision. 

Hilda's best friend and opposite number is Miriam, the mysteri- 
ous dark woman, a painter also, whose subject matter is preoccupied 
with death and violence and whose work features a self-portrait de- 
scribed by Hawthorne as "the very saddest picture ever painted or 
conceived." Miriam well understands the brotherhood of guilt, and 
taunts Donatello during his prelapsarian moment in the novel: 

"And what should a boy like you — a Faun, too — know about 
the joys and sorrows, the intertwining light and shadow, of 
human life? . . . You cannot suffer deeply; therefore, you can 
but half enjoy." (42) 

Miriam sees the necessity for a juxtaposition of light with dark to 
reveal the full measure of human experience, even to gauge the value 
and worth of a work of art. This critical perception is reflected in 
Miriam's comments about Hilda's shortsightedness regarding a paint- 
ing by Guido Reni: 

"If it cost her more trouble to be good, if her soul were less 
white and pure, she could be a more competent critic of this 
picture, and would estimate it not half so high." (138) 

Hilda eventually comes into the shadowed land that surrounds 
Miriam — she is a secret witness to Donatello's crime and Miriam's 
complicity in the murder. Her whiteness stained by exposure to evil, 
Hilda rejects Miriam and suffers the pain of the disillusioned inno- 
cent. As Hawthorne explains: 

When that knowledge comes, it is as if a cloud had suddenly 
gathered over the morning light; so dark a cloud that there 
seems to be no longer any sunshine behind it or above it. (238) 

Hilda now lurches through the galleries in Rome unable to em- 
brace the Italian masters' work in quite the same way. Lost innocence 
renders her suspicious ol their motives; she begins to see some arti- 
fice in their depictions of spiritual expression. She discovers that some 
"were not human, nor addressed their work to human sympathies, 
but to a false intellectual taste" (243). Hilda no longer has "a gifted 
simplicity of vision" that hitherto carried an imperfect work to spiri- 

44 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gengarelly 

tual expression but, instead, has been overcome by a different mood, 
"cold and critical," But her fall into consciousness, though painful, 
has its compensations: "She saw beauty less vividly, but felt truth, or 
the lack of it, more profoundly" (244). No longer does she admire the 
work of mannerist painters such as Guido Reni but is drawn to the 
more direct and naturalistic images of early Renaissance masters such 
as Fra Angelico. 

For Hawthorne, then, light and dark are necessary not only to 
reveal form but also to uncover the true art and moral quality of 
being human. The lost Eden is the real, flawed world, the land of 
light and dark, the place where the soul evolves and personal growth 
occurs. In this vein, the author concludes: "Adam saw [Eden] a brighter 
sunshine, but never knew the shade of pensive beauty which Eden 
won from his expulsion" (201). So Hawthorne employs an artistic 
metaphor, the tension between light and dark, the chiaroscuro of 
shaded transitions that took civilization out of the Middle Ages, away 
from the divine splendor of two-dimensional representation, into the 
Renaissance, hence the real world of human existence, in order to 
punctuate his perception of the "fortunate fall." 

The Classical Ideal 

Hawthorne, like many of his fellow American artists in Italy, was 
drawn to the classical ideal. Tn fact, modern Italy and especially con- 
temporary Rome, with its Baroque Catholicism, was viewed as an 
obstruction to a more glorious past. Surveying the old Forum from 
the heights of the Campidoglio, the author concludes: "Rome, as it 
now exists, has grown up under the Popes, and seems like nothing 
but a heap of broken rubbish, thrown into the great chasm between 
our own days and the Empire" (85). Hawthorne carefuffy avoids any 
comment on Baroque sculpture or architecture. Bernini is an all but 
forgotten artist, conspicuously absent from the pages of The Marble 
Faun. A visit to "The Cathedral of the World" by the novel's charac- 
ters ignores the Baroque splendor of St. Peter's, while the author's 
alter ego, Kenyon, the American sculptor, remarks that the grand 
structure could well use some "painted windows." This aversion to 
the Baroque has been partially explained by the fact that American 
puritan sensibilities rejected its sensuousness, were repelled by such 
sculptural groups as Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa in the Cornaro 

The Mind's Eye 45 

Tony Gengarelly 

Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Baroque art was considered deca- 
dent: its stylistic extravagance perceived as a radical deviation from 
the purity of form inherent in the classical ideal. 

It was not to pure classicism that Hawthorne and his colleagues 
were attracted, however, but to the more personal, individual and 
realistic art of neoclassicism. Hawthorne's image of classical Arcadia 
in The Marble Faun, for instance, has neoclassical as well as modem 
transcendental overtones. The original Arcadia, referenced in Virgil's 
Eclogues and exemplified by such master works as Giorgione 's Concert 
Champetre, is clearly not what Hawthorne had in mind. His is not a 
middle pastoral landscape visited by nude muses of poetry and song, 
an idle celebration of love with lyrical andmusical harmonies, Rather, 
Hawthorne's rustic idol is found in an actual view he describes from 
the machicolated battlements of the country estate of the fictional 
Monte Beni family (nearly the same location and vantage point en- 
jo yed by the Ha wthorne family during their summer stay in Tuscany ) : 

The sculptor [Ksnyon] felt as if his being were suddenly 
magnified a hundredfold, so wide was the Umbrian valley 
that suddenly opened before him, set in its grand framework 
of nearer and more distant hills, . , . The trim vineyards were 
there, and the fig trees, and the mulberries, and the smoky- 
hued tracts of the olive orchards; there, too, were fields of 
every kind of grain, among which waved the Indian corn, 
putting Kenyon in mind of the fondly remembered acres of 
his father's homestead. White villas, gray convents, church 
spires, villages, towns, each with its battlemented walls and 
towered gateway, were scattered upon this spacious map; a 
river gleamed across it. (188) 

Hawthorne has, here, in effect sketched a picture from the Hudson 
River school of American landscape painting: a neoclassically framed 
bucolic reality. He even embraces an Emersonian transcendentalist 
moment as his character reflects on the vista he has experienced: 

"Thank God for letting me again behold this scene! . . . How 
it strengthens the poor human spirits ... to ascend but this 
little way above the common level, and so attain a some- 
what wider glimpse of His deafings with mankind! He doeth 
all things right! His will be done!" (188) 

46 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gengarelly 

Hawthorne's classical vision is one laced with current reality; he sees 
Arcadian beauty, filters the Golden Age through the lens of a 19th- 
century American artist/transcendemalist. 

Hawthorne's comments on classical sculpture also reverberate with 
notions of individuality and realism. His Italian journals reflect a novice 
art critic attracted to the pure Hellenic prototypes of idealized beauty 
but, nonetheless, reassuringly connected to the more earthbound 
examples ol Hellenistic, Roman and early Renaissance sculpture. 
During a visit to the Vatican galleries, Hawthorne evidences both his 
attraction to the antique models and a reassertion of his naturalistic 

I am partly sensible that some unwritten rules of taste are 
making their way into my mind; that all this Greek beauty 
has done something toward refining me, who am still, how- 
ever, a very sturdy Goth. (Vance 184) 

Hawthorne and Sophia feel much more comfortable in the Capitoluie 
Museum, where antique Roman portrait busts demonstrate the rev- 
elations of an individual personality. As Bill Vance phrases it in 
America's Rome, "The value of the individualizing realism of these 
Roman portraits is precisely in its showing that the originals are not 
reducible to a common type; each is unique, the victim or beneficiary 
of an extraordinary destiny from which, however, psychological and 
ethical principles may be inferred" (186). Hawthorne's sculptor in 
The Marble Faun is also drawn to the individualized realism of the 
Hellenistic and Roman periods. The emerging bust of Cleopatra, bor- 
rowed from the oeuvre of William Wetmore Story and present in 
Kenyon's fictional studio, reveals repose and latent energy, tender- 
ness and passion, womanly beauty and Egyptian particularity — ex- 
cellent combinations of formal purity and personal expression. For 
the most part, this perception of classical realism was shared by a 
number of American sculptors abroad in Italy, especially the ones 
admired by Hawthorne. 

During their stay in Rome, Nathaniel and Sophia were present 
when a version of the Venus de Medici was unearthed on the Roman 
Campagna (fig. .3). Recounted in The Marble Faun as the accidental 
experience of Kenyon, Donatello and Miriam, this discovery led 
Hawthorne to reconsider a piece of sculpture he had hitherto greatly 
admired. Taking Story's advice, he reevaluated the statue after con- 

The Mind's Eye 47 

Tony Gengarelty 

templating the vacant Hellenic features of the Venus' (ace, which, for 
him, made the statue void of intellectual content. However beautiful 
and modest — the features that had first attracted Hawthorne — the 
Venus lost all significance when the breath of human life seemed to 
desert her. As Vance relates, "It is obvious that for Hawthorne there 
was nothing to be said once the intellectual' and 'spiritual' aspects of 
Venus — which resided entirely in her face — were no longer percep- 
tible" (209). This preference for the world of conscious awareness 
over that of abstract, idealized perfection is certainly featured as an 
important, sensibility in the fictional Marble Faun. 

While in Florence, the Hawthornes visited the Bargello museum 
and were much taken by the 15ih-century statue of David by the 
Renaissance sculptor Donatello, an early work { 1430-32 } and the first 

Figure 3: Venus de Medici, 100 B.C. 

48 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Qmgtmlly 

statue in the nude since the classical period (fig. 4). According to a 
perceptive article by Lea Newman, "Hawthorne's Summer in Flo- 
rence," Hawthorne derived both the name and the essential charac- 
teristics of his novel's main protagonist from this encounter. For the 
Donatello of The Marble Faun is not only named after the famous sculp- 
tor, he also has the beauty and boyish features of the bronze David, as 
well as the latent capacity to act dramatically and kill a Goliathlike 
specter haunting his adored Miriam (Newman 65). Clearly, the re- 
alism of this early Renaissance piece captured Hawthorne's imagi- 
nation, which further confirms the fact that the author's classical 
affinities, informed by such mentors as the American sculptor Hiram 
Powers, whose studio was near the Hawthornes' residence in Flo- 
rence, were definitely rooted in the humanistic tradition of Hellenis- 
tic Greece and classical Rome. 

Figure 4: Donatello, David, 1430-32 

The Mind 's Eye 49 

Tony Gengarelly 

The Marble Faun reflects this disposition, too, when Ken yon visits 
the Belvedere Court at the Vatican and encounters both the Hellenic 
prototype of male beauty, the Apollo Belvedere (fig. 5), and the ago- 
nized sculptural group, the Hellenistic Laocoon (fig. 6). Hawthorne 
first describes Kenyon's attitude toward the Hellenic Greek prototype: 

He questioned, at that moment, whether sculpture really ever 
softens and warms the material which it handles; whether 
carved marble is anything but limestone, after all; and 
whether the Apollo Belvedere itself possesses any merit above 
its physical beauty. (281) 

Then the author continues to follow Kenyon's reflections as he ex- 
amines the Hellenistic figures caught in the coils of a serpent: 

Figure 5 : Apollo Belvedere, 350 b. c. (Roman copy) 

50 The Mind's Eye 

Tony GmgareUy 

Nothing pleased him, unless it were the group of the Laocoon, 
which, in its immortal agony, impressed Kenyon as a type of 
the long, fierce struggle of man, involved in the knotted en- 
tanglements of Error and Evil, those two snakes, which, if 
no divine help intervene, will be sure to strangle him and his 
children in the end. (281) 

It is the reality of the agony and pain of the Laocoon that holds Kenyon 's 
rapt attention and represents as well the struggle the novel's charac- 
ters have undergone in their battles with "Error and Evil." The Fall, 
fortunate or not, is real for Kenyon, Miriam, Hilda and Donatello, 
and for their literary creator; it is therefore the personal, individual 
and realistic manifestation of the classical ideal that Hawthorne pre- 
fers and uses to advance the theme of his novel. 

Figure 6: Laocoon Group, first century B.C. 

The Mind's Eye 51 

Tony Cengarelly 

Neoplatonism and the Unfinished Work 

The Marble Faun's characters are in various stages of moral awa reness; 
the evolution of their souls in a fallen world of consciousness remains 
incomplete. As they reach for the light, glimpsed in the skies over 
Monte Beni or from the rooftop of St. Peter's in Rome, Donatello and 
his artist friends are portrayed as unfinished works of art. Several 
times in the novel Hawthorne refers to a sculptural work in progress 
and suggests a latent form in the material out of which it is being 

As the skillful workman gave stroke after stroke of the chisel 
with apparent carelessness, but sure effect, it was impossible 
not to think that the outer marble was merely an extrane- 
ous environment; since the human countenance within its 
embrace must have existed there since the limestone ledges 
of Carrara were first made. (89) 

Kenyon's Roman artisans, all this while, had been at work 
on the Cleopatra. The fierce Egyptian queen had now struggled 
almost out of the imprisoning stone; or, rather, the work- 
men had found her within the mass of marble, imprisoned 
there by magic, but still fervid to the touch with fiery life. 

Carrying the point of the unfinished work to a general human condi- 
tion, Miriam at one juncture speculates; "As these busts in the block 
of marble, so does our individual fate exist in the limestone of time. ' 
We fancy that we carve it out; but its ultimate shape is prior to all our 
action" (90). 

Given this perception, it is certainly tempting to speculate that 
Hawthorne may have had in mind the Neoplatonic idea articulated 
by Michelangelo, who proposed that the sculptor did not really model 
the statue but, rather, chipped away the exterior marble to reveal the 
imprisoned form. According to Neoplatonic theory, there is a perfec- 
tion of life that exists prior to and beyond our own that can perhaps 
be glimpsed in a work of art. Hawthorne reflects this notion in a dia- 
logue between Hilda and Kenyon over the sculptor's unfinished bust 
of Cleopatra. Hilda comments: 

"I am afraid that this final despair, and sense of shortcoming, 
must always be the reward and punishment of those who 

52 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gengarelly 

try to grapple with a great or beautiful idea. . . . The idea 

leaves you an imperfect image of itself Nobody . . . ought 

to read puetry, or look at pictures or statues, who cannot 
find a great deal more in them than the poet or artist has 
actually expressed. Their highest merit is suggestiveness." 

Hawthorne carries this Neoplatonic sense of an emerging soul — in 
the case of sculpture, a figure trapped in stone reaching for the light 
and ultimate freedom that transcends the material weight of the 
world— in his description, through the mouth of Hilda once more, of 
the yet-to-be-finished bust of the fictional Donatello: 

"ft has an effect as if f could see this countenance gradually 
brightening while I look at it. It gives the impression of a 

Figure 7: Michelangelo, Unfinished Slave. 1527-28 

The Mind's Eye 53 

Tony Gengarelly 

growing intellectual power and mural sense. ... It is the 
Faun, but advancing towards a state ol higher development. 

This image of an evolving soul as an unfinished work of art certainly 
fits the theme of the "fortunate fall." As Kenyon endeavors to ex- 
plain to Hilda: "Was that very sin — into which Adam precipitated 
himself and all his race — was it the destined means by which, over a 
long pathway of toil and sorrow, we are to attain a higher, brighter, 
and profounder happiness than our lost birth right gave?* (311). 

Once again, Michelangelo comes to mind; this time it is his un- 
finished slaves, originally intended for the tomb of Julius II, that are 
suggested (fig. 7). We know that Michelangelo viewed these [orms as 
individual souls striving to tree themselves from matter, the dross 
material that bound them to the earth and denied their heavenly 
home. Was Hawthorne influenced by the Renaissance master? He 
leaves us a small clue in the final comment on Kenyon's decision to 
leave the bust of Donatello in its incomplete form: "And, accordingly, 
Donatello'sbust (like that rude, rough mass of the head of Brutus, by 

Figure S: Michelangelo, Tomb of Lorenzo de Medici, San Lorenzo, 1524-34 

54 The Mind's Eye 

Tony Gen§are!ly 

Michael Angelo, al Florence) has ever since remained in an unfin- 
ished state' (274). 

Newman's account also helps us by placing Hawthorne in the 
Medici Chapel of the cathedral of San Lorenzo in Florence during the 
summer of 1858, where he and Sophia admired Michelangelo's sculp- 
tural group over the tomb of Lorenzo de Medici. The Renaissance prince, 
Lorenzo, is seen in brooding contemplation as he sits above the inert 
figures of Dusk and Dawn, who represent the earthly cycle of life and 
death that traps the soul, holds it back from heavenly union (fig. 8). 
Did the Neoplatonic message of the Medici Chapel translate to 
Hawthorne and The Marble Faun? At least we can say that the mes- 
sage is there, inherent in the pages of the text, if not totally explicated 
by its author. But one might well consider that Hawthorne and his 
artistic contemporaries were indeed aware of the Neoplatonic dimen- 
sion of the unfinished work of art, a dimension that fits so well 
Hawthorne's treatment of his fictional characters' moral unfolding in 
The Marble Faun. 


At the risk of being somewhat speculative, I feel it is helpful to 
our understanding of The Marble Faun to move away from the text 
into the cultural context of expatriate American artists in Italy during 
the 19th century. In that broader field, connections and reverbera- 
tions among its many players provide a varied and heightened un- 
derstanding of certain components that make up the individual work 
of literature. It is my contention that, in this instance, Hawthorne's 
literary art was informed by his awareness of a range of visual art 
and, more specifically, by certain shared attitudes toward it that con- 
tain aspects of art history and cultural aesthetics: (1) chiaroscuro and 
its application to art and life, as represented by the fictional painters 
Hilda and Miriam; (2) the classical ideal in its realistic and contempo- 
rary application, clearly preferred by the author to underscore the 
conscious moral evolution of his characters; and (3) the Neoplatonic 
dimension of the unfinished work, prominently featured as a defin- 
ing metaphor in Hawthorne's Italian "romance." 

The Mind's Eye 55 

Tony Gin$are\ly 

Works Cited 

Gengarelly, Tony. "The Lure of Italy: Nathaniel Hawthorne and The 
Marble Faun." The Mind's Eye Fall 2001 . 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Marble Faun. New York: New American 
Library, 1961. 

"Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864," Nineteenth- Century Literature Criti- 
cism. Ed. Janet Mullane and Robert Thomas Wilson. Vol, 23. 
Detroit: Gale Research. 1989. 

Newman, Lea Berlani Vozar. "Hawthorne's Summer in Florence: Re- 
living a Honeymoon, the Dante Connection, and the Nascent 
Marble Faun." The Poetics of Place: Florence Imagined. Ed. Irene 
Marchegiani Jones and Thomas Haeussler. Florence, Italy: 
Olschki, 2001. 

Vance, William L. America 's Rome. Vol. I. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1 989. 

56 The Mind's Eye 

Global Justice and the 
Absence of Universal 

Morality: Ra wlsian Perspectives 

on Human Rights and International 
Relations 1 

By Paul O. Nnodim 


John Rawls was James Bryant Conant University Professor Emeri- 
tus of Philosophy at Harvard University until his death in 2002. 
Today he is perhaps the most influential figure in contemporary 
Western legal and political philosophy. Epistemological glibness shrouds 
most contemporary theories of justice and quite often trivializes the 
urgency of the subject matter, Rawls's works, especially his opus mag- 
num of 1971 — A Theory of Justice — Political Liberalism (1993) and The 
Law of Peoples (1999) are among the few whose seriousness ol purpose 
makes the discussion of justice a viable topic in contemporary political 

J This article is part of a lecture 1 gave at the seventh international congress of the 
Austrian Philosophical Society. University of Salzburg, Austria, in January 2004. Onlos 
Veriag {Frankfurt a.M) and Transaction Books of Rutgers University (Piscataway, NJ) 
published the German version of this lecture in 2005 as chapter 1 1 of the book Gerechtigktit 
aufder Suche Nach Eimm Glekkgtwichl (Hrsg Otto Neumaier el al,). Here is the English 
version of that chapter with some addenda. 1 am gratefu I to Matt Silliman. Dave Johnson 
and Rita Nnodim for very useful comments. 

The Mind's Eye 57 

Paul O. Nnodim 

This article is concerned with the problem of ascertaining the rel- 
evance of Rawls's liberal theory to questions of global justice and hu- 
man rights. My main interest here is to find answers to the following 
important questions: Can Rawls's theory achieve universal applicabil- 
ity and validity? Is Western liberal pluralism and liberal democracy 
exportable to the so-called nonliberal or illiberal societies? How are 
liberal societies to relate to nonliberal societies on economic matters 
and questions of justice in the international forum? Furthermore, Rawls 
and some other contemporary international legal theorists argue that 
the present international standard of human rights (Universal Decla- 
ration of Human Rights, hereinafter UDHR) cannot achieve any uni- 
versal validity, owing to its parochial and ethnocentric origins. Is this 
the fact? 

In opposition to Rawis's position, this articte will consider the vi- 
ability of a retrospective cultural-legitimacy argument for UDHR norms. 
Retrospective cultural-legitimacy thesis refers to the search for legiti- 
macy, validity or acceptability for those UDHR norms imposed on some 
non- Western countries in 1948 by the United Nations, without being 
sensitive to the background cultures of these countries. In this article, 
some of these norms will be broadly reexamined alongside the cul- 
tural specificities of some non-Western societies. 

Rawls made substantial efforts to answer some of the questions 
raised in this article, especially in The Law of Peoples. However, I am 
inclined to argue that his liberal internationalism consciously 
abandons some core liberal principles in order to achieve broader 
acceptance, especially among nonliberal societies. Thus, accept- 
ability erroneously becomes a synonym for normative justification 
of moral principles. An important issue addressed in this article is 
Rawls's attenuation of the existing international human-rights 
norms (UDHR), in order to avoid possible charges of ethnocentrism 
and cultural imperialism. In this way, his liberal internationalism 
fails to extricate itself from the burden of culturalism and value rela- 
tivism. My appropriation of the term culturalism here slightly dif- 
fers from its contemporary sociocultural anthropological meaning. 
While the contemporary culturalist emphasizes the importance of 
culture in determining behavior, culturalism in my understanding 
rejects cross-cultural criticism — Kulturkritik — of particular cultures. 

58 The Mind's Eye 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

Rawls's Global Justice Theory 

The law of nations 1 envisaged by Rawls in A Theory of Justice prompted 
some of his prominent followers, such as Charles Beitz (Political Theory) 
and Thomas Pogge (Realizing Rawls, "Egalitarian Law"), to propose a 
cosmopolitan reformation of Rawls's "justice as fairness." 

Within the framework of a functioning Western liberal society, 
Rawls's justice as fairness requires the implementation of the follow- 
ing principles of justice: 

First: each person is to have an equal right to the most exten- 
sive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.* 
Second: social and economic inequalities are to be ar- 
ranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to 
everyone's advantage, and (b) attached to positions and of- 
fices open to afl. (60) 

The (a) section of the second principle is known as the difference 
principle. On further interpretation, it allows the state to tax the rich in 
order to alleviate the situation of the worse disadvantaged members 
of the society. The rich in turn benefit from such a principle by living 
in a relatively safe and less antagonistic society. The cosmopolitan ref- 
ormation advocated by Beitz and Poggc would take justice as fairness 
to a higher level of abstraction, where it will transcend the domestic 
Western liberal society to assume an international status. 

Thus, "justice as fairness" is to express a full-blown egalitarian 
theory of global distributive justice, providing remedies to today's prob- 
lems of global justice (Wenar 85). 

The position of Beit/, and Pogge undoubtedly aimed to persuade 
Rawls to change his line of thought on international justice, which 
many of his critics claim substantially contradicts his domestically 
conceived egalitarian liberal principles of distributive justice. Their 
cosmopolitan view provides an alternative to Rawls's nation-centric 
conception of international justice. 

1 The law of nations is the version of international justice and relations Rawls proposed 
in 1971. With the recast of A Theory of Justice in 1993, this idea of international justice 
and relations became obsolete. 

1 Rawls's notion of basic liberty encapsulates the following: the right to vote and be 
eligible tor public office, freedom of speech and assembly, liberty of conscience and 
freedom of thought, freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right of person and the right to 
hold persona] property (777fcry61). 

Pie Mind's Bye 59 

Paul Nnodim 

The view of Reitz and Fogge on global justice, unlike that of Rawls, 
is rather an international conception of justice, which sees the indi- 
vidual person as a participating member of the international society 
and as a legitimate subject of international justice, irrespective of the 
contingent circumstances that define his or her origin, position in so- 
ciety or biographical standpoint. The international society, according 
to cosmopolitanism, is a global union of societies or cosmopolis, and 
persons rather than nations or states are to form its proper constitu- 
tive elements (Nardin 234). 

With the publication of The Law of Peoples in 1 999 (an extension of 
Political Liberalism of 1996 to issues of international relations and glo- 
bal justice), Rawls set forth his legacy of social liberalism and in so 
doing disappointed many of his adherents (Beitz "Liberalism" 515- 
529). Here he reiterates his position on global justice, insisting that 
the domain of international justice and relations among nations does 
not encompass a cosmopolitan notion of distributive justice. 

As Terry Nardin rightly points out, when debating international 
justice, it is very important to specify whether it is the entitlement of 
individuals or of nations that is at stake, since these two ways of con- 
sidering the subjects of international justice have the propensity to 
generate differing results (233). 

Considering the primary subjects of justice, Rawls's conception of 
international justice as put forth in The Law of Peoples ignores "per- 
sons" and settles for .the notion of "peoples" (understood as societies 
or nations). International justice so conceived hinges on the idea of 
cooperation among societies that are in Rawls's view internally well 
ordered. This form of cooperation is based on principles of nonaggres- 
sion, adherence to the international law of peoples and mutual aid to 
burdened societies (Hinsch 58-78). 

Rawls's international law of peoples circumscribes the following: 

1 . Peoples are free and independent, and their freedom and 
independence are to be respected by other peoples. 

2. Peoples are to observe treaties and undertakings. 

3. Peoples are equal and arc parties to the agreements 
that bind them. 

4. Peoples are to observe a duty of non-intervention. 

5. Peoples have the right of self-defense but no right to 
instigate war for reasons other than self-defense. 

60 The Mind's Eye 

Paul O. Nnodim 

6. Peoples are to honor human rights. 

7. Peoples are to observe certain specified restrictions in 
the conduct of war. 

8. Peoples have a duty to assist other peoples living un- 
der unfavorable conditions that prevent their having a just 
or decent politicai and social regime, (Law 37) 

Noticeably absent in "The Law of Peoples" is any form of egali- 
tarian principle reminiscent of the "difference principle" designed 
to regulate the distribution of the burdens of social and economic 
cooperation among "persons" across nations. In Rawls's view, the 
application of the difference principle at the global level is not jus- 
tifiable. Unlike the difference principle, which conceives liberal 
democratic citizens as equal persons, Rawls's Law of Peoples, which 
regulates international relations and justice, does not embody a con- 
ception of person in this liberal sense. 

As Rawls puts it: "The Law of Peoples does not say, for example, 
that human beings are moral persons and have equal worth in the 
eyes of God, or that they have certain moral and intellectual powers 
that entitle them to these rights"(Lflw 68). 

Rawls thinks it will be unfair to nonliberal societies to introduce a 
liberal conception Such as the difference principle into the codex of 
international law and relations. This line of argument derives from 
the fact that' decent hierarchical societies may have conceptions of 
citizenship that run parallel to liberal conceptions. Hierarchical socie- 
ties may not regard their citizens as individual, equal and free persons 
but, rather, conceptualize the idea of citizenship from communalistic 
orgroup-oriented backgrounds. 

As Wilfried Hinsch notes, Rawls also holds the view that the redis- 
tribution of global economic wealth to the benefit of poor countries in 
accordance with the difference principle is not tenable (70). Rawls's 
central argument here derives from his conviction that cultural ties 
and feeling of affinity among world peoples are weak. 

Hence, the moral psychology needed to generate an international 
sense of justice and sentiments, which could give rise to distributive 
justice based on the liberal idea of the difference principle, is absent at 
the global level. As an additional argument against demands for global 
redistributive justice, Rawls maintains that the arbitrary distribution 
of natural resources in the world does not provide persuasive reasons 
to justify the global redistribution of wealth. 

The Mind's Eye 61 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

This definitely conflicts with the arguments of the proponents of 
global distributive justice, who consider the unequal distribution of 
natural resources as unfair to many countries and, hence, a good rea- 
son to argue for the global redistribution of wealth. For Rawls, it is 
neither the possession of natural resources nor the lack of natural re- 
sources that makes countries rich or poor. 

The economic prowess of rich countries (for example, the liberal 
democratic societies of the West) lies among other things in their 
political culture, industriousness and innovation, as well as in the 
religious, philosophical and moral traditions that support the basic 
structure of their political and social institutions. The causes of back- 
wardness, Rawls argues, are primarily the lack of sound political and 
cultural tradition in poor countries, the absence of basic technologi- 
cal expertise, coupled with poor population policies and the state's 
failure to uphold human rights. Therefore, he reiterates, the arbi- 
trariness of the distribution of natural resources is not responsible 
for a country's economic and social progress or lack of it. 

In fact, Rawls declares that there is no country in the world (ex- 
cept in very marginal cases) so lacking in relatively sufficient natural 
resources as to prevent it from attaining the status of a well-ordered 
society, were it to be reasonably and rationally governed. The posses- 
sion of natural resources in many instances, he says, has proved to 
make some countries less innovative and economically less successful 
than those that are lacking in them, Rawls succinctly expresses this 
view when he observes that "historical examples seem to indicate that 
resource-poor countries may do very well (e.g., Japan), while resource- 
rich countries may have serious difficulties (e.g., Argentina)" (Law 108). 

From this line of argument, Rawls proceeds to enunciate what he 
believes constitutes a more viable conception of international justice; 
that is, one that embodies the notion of a "duty of assistance" to bur- 
dened societies. Sucieties that lack the political culture, historical tra- 
ditions and basic technological know-how to become either decent or 
liberal well-ordered societies on their own are, in his global-justice 
theory, entitled to a transitional foreign aid. Such a duty of assistance, 
however, terminates at the stage in which a burdened society becomes 

From this perspective, arguments for the redistribution of global 
wealth in favor of poor countries appear to be non sequitur. Since 
each decent or liberal society is autonomous, and its level of economic 

62 The Mind's Eye 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

development is dependent upon the sound articulation of its own poli- 
cies, Rawls argues, the economic inequality emanating from the social 
or economic policies of one country when compared with those of 
another is the sole responsibiiity of the country in question. The bur- 
den of decisions freely made by a given liberal or decent society, he 
concludes, is to be borne entirely by both the present and the future 
generations of the given society alone, 

To impose the consequences of free decisions of one society on 
another society under the pretense of distributive egalitarian global 
justice is for Rawls not acceptable. Following Rawls's conception of 
peoples as autonomous, equal and free, organized as liberal or decent 
societies, economic inequalities among peoples or nations have do- 
mestic origins. In economic terms, liberal and decent societies are thus 
masters of their own fate. Accordingly, a global-justice theory that 
envisages the redistribution of wealth among nations beyond the duty 
of assistance— that is, beyond minimal aid to developing burdened 
societies— is not justifiable. 

However, a closer empirical study of the current global situation 
may render Rawls's position contestable. As Beitz counters, a meticu- 
lous study of the global issue of poverty and underdevelopment sug- 
gests that the sources of economic backwardness are not obviously 
attributable to internal factors or domestic policies of governments. 
The factors that underlie underdevelopment vary from one society to 
another, and thus, the relative importance of the general factors listed 
by Rawls is disputable ('Rawls" 669-696). 

■ There are some serious points that Rawls seems to ignore in his 
discussion of global justice. Some of these issues inform the current 
global economic structure and invariably play a significant role in 
the development and underdevelopment of today's poor countries 
of the world. These include the role of transnational trade with its 
negative impacts on the economies of developing nations, the effects 
of globalized capitalist market structures, the debt policy of donor-rich 
countries and its effect on poor Third World countries, as well as the 
role of the international financial institutions such as the International 
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. 

Considering these perspectives, Beitz thinks the causes of poverty 
are not easily distinguished: 

[A] society's integration into the world economy, reflected 
in its trade relations, dependence capital markets, and 

The Mind's Eye 63 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

vulnerability to the policies of international financial insti- 
tutions, can have deep and lasting consequences (or the 
domestic economic and political structure. Under these 
circumstances, it may not even be possible to distinguish 
between domestic and international influences on a society's 
economic condition. ("Rawls" 690) 

Rawls's liberal internationalism as propounded in The Law of Peoples 
fails to provide adequate and fair principles for transnational trade 
and economic relations persuasive enough to justify his position on 
global justice. 

Rawls's idea of international justice requires that citizens (present 
and future generations) of liberal or decent societies be considered 
responsible for the costs incurred as a result of social or economic poli- 
cies adopted in such societies. It is difficult, however, to accept as fair 
the idea of imposing the costs of possibie imprudent choices of previ- 
ous rulers and previous generations on the present or future genera- 
tion of a poor society, who are citizens of such an unfortunate poor 
society based on contingent circumstances (Beitz "Rawls" 692). This 
explains why the duty of assistance as the basis of global justice is 
insufficient and incapable of providing adequate solutions to the per- 
tinent challenges of global justice facing our contemporary world. 

The Liberal Toleration of Nonliberals 

Another important matter discussed in some detail i.0 Ike Law of 
Peoples is how liberal societies are to deal with "decent-but-nonliberal" 
societies in the international forum. Rawls demands that liberal soci- 
eties tolerate decent societies in the international "Society of Peoples." 
Toleration of decent societies by liberal societies not only entails lib- 
eral peoples' refraining from using political or economic sanctions, 
military force or diplomatic pressures to instigate political changes in 
nonliberal-but-decent societies, but further demands that liberal soci- 
eties recognize decent societies as members with certain rights and 
obligations, participating on an equal basis in the Society of Peoples 
(Law 59). 

Rawls's position on toleration here follows from the same line of 
thought he developed in Political Liberalism. Just as citizens of liberal 
societies must respect one another's comprehensive religious, philo- 
sophical and moral doctrines, liberal societies at the international level 

64 The Mind's Eye 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

should respect the cultures, traditions and values of other societies of 
the world (provided such societies honor the Law ol Peoples) . In addi- 
tion, Rawls opines, since no society is static, decent societies should 
have the freedom to undergo internal reforms at their own pace. 

The admittance of nonliberal-but-decenl peoples into the Society 
ol Peoples with the aforementioned equality status and respect, Rawls 
believes, would easily produce positive results in the direction of re- 
forms that may lead decent societies to become liberal. When granted 
equal status, respect and recognition by liberal societies, decent socie- 
ties would experience the advantages of liberal democratic structures 
through years of mutual cooperation and interaction with liberal soci- 
eties and, as a result, would freely appropriate libera] values without 
external coercion (Law 59-62). 

However, societies falling under the umbrella of "indecency" may 
face justifiable intolerance on the part of both decent and liberal socie- 
ties. Such outlaw societies have no place within the forum of the inter- 
national Society of Peoples. "Decency" as appropriated by Rawls in his 
international-justice theory is invariably a condition lor toleration. A 
decent society could be hierarchical or nonhierarchical in nature. What 
stands as a necessary condition (though not a sufficient condition) for 
decency, he tells us, is that a decent society must honor the human 
rights inscribed in the international Law of Peoples (Law 80) . 

If honoring human rights is a core standard for decency, it be- 
comes reasonable to examine meticulously what constitutes human 
rights for Rawls. 

Human Rights and the Question of Retrospective Cul- 
tural Legitimacy 

Rawls designates human rights as "a special class of urgent rights" 
{Law 79). These are in essence a very short list of specific rights and 
liberties. They include freedom from sfavery, a sufficient measure 
of freedom of conscience and religion (excluding equal or lull lib- 
erty of conscience) and the right of ethnic minorities to five with- 
out fear of massacre or genocide, right to personal property and the 
notion of formal equality, which does not encapsulate equality of 
persons as citizens in the liberal sense. 

A glance at Rawls's list of human rights gives rise to the suspi- 
cion that he has adjusted the liberal principles of rights in order to 

The Mind's Eye 65 

Paul O. Nnoditn 

accommodate the political interests of nonliberal societies. He writes, 
"Human rights, as thus understood, cannot be rejected as peculiarly 
liberal or special to western tradition. They are not politically paro- 
chial" {Law 65). 

Thus, Rawls excludes from his liberal internationalism a sub- 
stantial number of rights and liberties granted in liberal democratic 
societies and defended in Political Liberalism, Such rights include ba- 
sic political liberties and freedom from discrimination based on reli- 
gion, race, caste, ethnicity or gender. This set of rights further includes 
freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the press, full and equal 
freedom of thought, conscience and religion (including the freedom 
of apostasy; that is, the right to change one's faith or religion and the 
right to question the orthodox interpretation of religious doctrine) 
(Hayden 131-132). 

Rawls's list of human rights in this way also differs from the UDHR 
of 1948 and the subsequent covenants, which provide the present 
standard of internationally recognized norms of human rights. Ex- 
amples of rights conscientiously annihilated in Rawls's lists of "Urgent 
Rights" are Articles 1 and 19 of the UDHR. Article 1 states: "All human 
beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are en- 
dowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one an- 
other in a spirit of brotherhood." Article 19 stipulates that "Everyone 
has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes 
freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive 
and imparl information and ideas through any media and regardless 
of frontiers," 

From a comparative perspective, Rawls asserts that only Articles 3 
tol8 of the UDHR embody human rights in the proper sense of the 
words. The rest of the articles, in his view, express ethnocentric. 
Western and liberal aspirations, which are culturally and histori- 
cally contingent and as such incapable of achieving universal valid- 
ity. Therefore, any broader and universally valid conceptualization of 
human rights must weaken the specific Western philosophical and 
cultural outlook of the UDHR, in order to fit into the space of reason- 
ableness of non-Western decent societies. 

The inherent liberal individualism expressed by the UDHR has to 
make way for peoples whose traditional and cultural practices do not 
recognize the value of liberal individualism but, rather, define persons 
in terms of community or group. Hence, in the international sphere, 

66 The Mind's Eye 

Paul 0. Nnodmi 

liberal peoples must constrict the liberal conception of justice modeled 
on liberal individualism in order to accommodate decent peoples' "com- 
mon good" conception of justice. Rawls, by dismissing particularly 
Article 1 of the UDHR. which grounds the normative importance of 
human rights on the quiddity of persons as human beings, under- 
mines the importance of UDHR norms in our contemporary world 
and their role in shaping the global order. 

The notion of decent society propounded in The Law of Peoples, 
Rawls maintains, is consistent with a reasonable interpretation of Is- 
lamic political ideas. Consequently, his model of a decent hierarchical 
society is the hypothetical Islamic People ot Kazanistan: 

In ^9.3 I give an example of an imaginary decent hierarchi- 
cal Muslim people whom I have named "Kazanistan." 
Kazanistan honors and respects human rights, and its basic 
structure contains a decent consultation hierarchy, thereby 
giving a substantial political roie to its members in making 
political decisions. (64) 

Rawls's criteria for a decent, hierarchical society, as exemplified by 
Kazanistan, allows such a society the freedom to adopt comprehen- 
sive institutional forms, whether secular or religious, provided the 
political aims of such a society exclude expansionist interests. Rawls 
also describes such a society as associationist in nature. This means 
that such a society views its members in public life as segments of 
different groups, where a body represents each group in the existing 
legal system and in the consultation hierarchy. 

The conception of justice existent in a decent hierarchical society 
is definable in terms of a "common good." Rawls makes it a rule that 
there must be a sincere and reasonable conviction on the part of judges 
and officials who administer the legal system that what they pronounce 
as judgment depends on a reasonable interpretation of this "common 
good" notion of justice. The system of law in a decent hierarchical 
society, according to him, is to impose moral dudes and obligations on 
citizens and to secure for all members of society what they generally 
regard as human rights [Law 64-67). 

The basic human rights operative in such a society need not en- 
compass anything more than "a special class of urgent rights." The 
conception of person in a decent hierarchical society does not neces- 
sarily need to be liberal. A decent hierarchical society is under no 

The Mind's Eye 67 

Paul O. Nnodim 

obligation to treat its citizens as equal persons. Rather, it classifies citi- 
zens as responsible and cooperating members of, for example, an eth- 
nic group, caste or religious group, with duties, obligations and rights 
specific to each group (Teson 295-31 5). Rawls's Kazanistan, as an ideal 
representative of a decent hierarchical society, fulfills the criteria of 
decency in the following ways: 

A comprehensive religious doctrine informs the Kazanistani sys- 
tem of government. As Rawls explicates: "Kazanistan's system of law 
does not institute the separation of church and stale" (Law75). There- 
fore, it is plausible to conjecture that a certain interpretation of shari'a, 
Islamic law, informs the legal system regulating the basic structure of 
Kazanistan. Rawls seems to confirm this suspicion when he notes that 
in Kazanistan. Islam isthe only favored religion and only Muslims can 
hold upper positions of political authority or influence government's 
policies (Law 75-76). 

Although there is no equal or full liberty of conscience in 
Kazanistan, the state guarantees a sufficient measure of liberty of con- 
science and religion. Furthermore, the state in some specific senses 
tolerates non-Islamic religions and the members of such religions may 
practice their religions without fear of persecution. However, the state 
can deny members of non-Islamic religions certain civic and religious 
rights in accordance with the Islamic law. 

Rawls's Kazanistan also honors the Law of Peoples and, hence, is 
not expansionist. Unlike thejihadists of old, Rawls tells us, Kazanistan 
does not give in to territorial aggrandizement and the building of em- 
pires. This is because of an enlightened Islamic theology that flour- 
ishes in such a society, leading its Islamic scholars to interpret jihad in 
a moral and spiritual sense, rather than in terms of physical military 
battles (Law 76). 

Finally, Kazanistan's system of government embodies a consulta- 
tion hierarchy and honors the basic human rights inscribed in the Law 
of Peoples: 

I think it is also plausible to imagine Kazanistan as organized 
in a decent consultation hierarchy, which has been changed 
from time to time to make it more sensitive to the needs of 
its people and the many different groups represented by le- 
gal bodies in the consultation hierarchy. (Law 77) 

Rawls's hypothetical Islamic state of Kazanistan, with its "com- 
mon good " conception of justice and a comprehensive religious doc- 

68 The Mind's Eye 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

trine regulating its basic structure, is compatible with many of the 
illiberal tendencies he condemned in his liberal conception of justice 
as given, for instance, in Political Liberalism. Some of these tendencies 
are inequality of persons, which is tantamount to social and economic 
injustices, discrimination against women and injustice toward religious 
and other minorities. 

Rawls, for instance, writes that there is a "sufficient measure" of 
liberty of conscience and freedom of religion and thought in Kazanistan, 
albeit without "equal or full liberty" of conscience (Law 65, 76). This 
simple rhetoric implies that the state legally denies equal liberty of 
conscience to members of minority religions, despite their cultural 
integration into the mainstream Muslim society (Tasioulas 38J). 

Rawls adds that minorities can practice their religions without fear 
of persecution or loss of most civic rights, except the right to hold 
higher political or judicial offices. This further suggests that besides 
the denial of the right to hold important offices, the state can legiti- 
mately deny non-Muslims certain civic rights, based on nothing other 
than religious reasons. It could be reasonably assumed that Islamic- 
rulers could employ the denial of such rights to demonstrate the gains 
accompanying being Muslim and, hence, facilitate the conversion pro- 
cess of non-Muslims. 

On further analysis, since the state of Kazanistan does not grant 
complete freedom of conscience, thought and religion, a Kazanistani 
Muslim may not have the choice to change his religion without perse- 
cution nor have the right to question the orthodox interpretation of 
Islamic doctrine. Bassam Tibi, on the interpretation of shari'a, notes, 
"Muslims themselves are not allowed to retreat from Islam, A Muslim 
who repudiates his or her faith in Islam can be prosecuted as a murtadd 
(apostate)" (104). 

Under the Islamic law and the fragmented-group conception of 
citizens in the hypothetical state of Kazanistan, the state may legiti- 
mately subject women to unequal and unfair treatment. In Rawls's 
Political Liberalism, the political conception of justice exhibits the pri- 
ority of right over the good, but the "common good" conception of 
justice he assigns to decent societies in The Law of Peoples is compatible 
with intolerant and unjust policies of the government. 

Since determining what counts as a common good in certain in- 
stances appears enigmatic, to ground the conception of justice solely 
on this notion is very dangerous. Acting according to the presumed 
ideal of the common good, Rawls's decent hypothetical society of 

The Minds Eye 69 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

Kazanistan may legitimately sanction horrendous practices against 
groups, sects or individuals perceived by the larger society as unpro- 
ductive or prone to criminality. The conception of justice that made 
"gypsy hunting" an acceptable sporting event in Europe crystallizes 
this danger. 4 

In an attempt to extend the principle of liberal toleration to 
nonliberal or illiberal societies, as we can see, Rawls's liberal interna- 
tionalism indulges in culturalism and value relativism. By weakening 
the internationally recognized human rights standard of the UDHR, 
Rawls believes he has captured the moral intuition of both liberal and 
nonliberal societies on what form of rights are to be accorded the sta- 
tus of human rights and hence capable of attaining universal accept- 

The fear of possible charges of moral imperialism in international 
justice and relations obviously informs Rawls's action in shortening 
the list of the UDHR. Hence, he joins with those who argue that the 
current standard of international human rights with its liberal indi- 
vidualism and liberal conception of person is alien to many non-West- 
ern cultures. Arguments of this kind are popular among those who 
oppose the application of the UDHR norms in some non-Western coun- 
tries of the world, such as Africa and Asia. Such arguments seern to 
emphasize that peoples, for instance, in traditional African and Asian 
societies are predominantly group or community oriented, rather than 
individualistic. Furthermore, proponents of such views consider peoples 
in group-oriented societies as lacking in individualistic psychology, 
which grants persons the impetus to make individual claims of rights 
against their government (Howard 165). Rawls and those who oppose 
the universal application of the UDHR norms conclude that since the 
existing international standard on human rights originates from within 
the framework of Western liberal individualism, it becomes excep- 
tionally difficult to realize this standard within the cultures of non- 
Western societies. 

In fact, some non-Western traditions and cultures may actually 
have ways of conceiving and expressing "rights'" that may not tally 
with the Western tradition and culture. As Virginia Leary notes: 

' Gypsy is a derogatory term far the Romani peupie of Europe. Following stereotypical 
judgments, the mainstream European population persecuted the Romani people (or 
the SetOiSad Roma, as they are called in German}, especially during the Middle Ages. 

70 The Mind's Eye 

Paul O. Nnadim 

The rich cultures of Asia and Africa express matters of hu- 
man dignity in terms other than "rights." Many of these cul- 
tures, in contrast, value a sense of community and stress 
duties to family and community more than they emphasize 
individualism and rights. (16) 

Nevertheless, as Rhoda Howard argues, the existence of commu- 
nity-rooted ethics in African and Asian societies does not negate the 
role and importance of human rights to these societies. It will amount 
to a definist fallacy, if human rights are defined in terms and meanings 
that exclude communalistic or communitarian conceptions of rights. 
However, the international human-rights norms are there to protect 
individuals against abuses, irrespective of whether these individuals 
are persons or groups (communities) (Howard 165). 

Hence, we should not undermine the relevance of the existing 
international standard of human rights on the assumption that indi- 
vidualistic conceptions of rights are alien to non-Western cultures and 
traditions. Rather, we need a cross-cultural dialogue aimed at reinter- 
preting the liberal conception of person and right from within the 
framework of group and community-rooted conception of human dig- 
nity (Howard 182). 

A more viable approach in the search for universal validity and 
applicability of UDHR norms is one that encompasses a retrospective 
cultural-legitimacy thesis. The retrospective cultural-legitimacy argu- 
ment entails a reinterpretation of the UDHR norms from within the 
specific cultures, worldviews and traditions of non-Western societies, 
where these norms are presently considered alien (An-Na'im 20-21 ). 
The cultural-legitimacy thesis is to be informed by a sincere cross- 
cultural dialogue. As Bhiku Parekh notes: 

If universal values are to enjoy widespread support and demo- 
cratic validation and be free of ethnocentric biases, they 
should arise out of an open and uncoerced cross-cultural dia- 
logue. Such a dialogue should include every culture with a 
point of view to express. In so doing we show respect for 
them, and give them a motive to comply with the principle 
of holding a cross-cultural dialogue. We also ensure that such 
values as we arrive at are born out of different historical ex- 
periences and cultural sensibilities, free of ethnocentric bi- 
ases, and thus genuinely universal. The dialogue occurs both 

The MindS Eye 71 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

in large international gatherings of governmental and non- 
governmental representatives and in small groups of aca- 
demics and intellectuals. (159) 

The aim of such an intercultural dialogue is not to argue for the 
existence of a natural universal morality, since peoples' traditions, 
religions and moral conceptions are shaped by historical and other 
contingent circumstances. It is to aim, as Parekh suggests, not at 
discovering values but rather at reaching a consensus on already 
existing international norms (14-0). 

Such an intercultural dialogue aimed at seeking retrospective cu!- 
tural legitimacy for UDHR is tenable, if done with respect toward other 
cultures and if adequate knowledge of local cultures informs the back- 
ground discussions. This would also undermine any possible charges 
of ethnocentrism (Tan 34, 208). 

Considering the interdependence of peoples, the dynamism and 
interconnectedness of world cultures and the present trend of global- 
ization, we could reasonably and optimistically say that achieving ret- 
rospective cultural legitimacy for UDHR, where the applicability of 
the existent international norms is not yet firmly rooted, is quite fea- 
sible. After all, the people of the world are constantly engaged in a 
cultural metissage and the philosophical appropriation of the "other." 
World cultures are not hermetic bubbles. 

Works Cited 

An-Na'irri, Abdullahi Ahmed. "Problems of Universal Cultural Legiti- 
macy for Human Rights." Human Rights in Africa: Cross-cultural 
Perspective. Ed. Abdullahi A. An-Na'im and Francis M. Deng. 
Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1990. 

Beitz, Charles R. Political Theory and International Relations. Princeton, 
NJ: Princeton UP, 1979. 

. "Social and Cosmopolitan Liberalism." International Affairs 75. 

3 (1999). 

. "Rawls Law of Peoples," Ethics 1 10 (2000). 

Hayden, Patrick. John Rawls: Towards a Just World Order. Cardiff: U 
of Wales P, 2002. 

Hinscb, Wilfried. "Global Distributive Justice." Metaphilosophy 32 
(2001): 58-78. 

72 The Mind's Eye 

Paul 0. Nnodim 

Howard, Rhoda E, "Group Versus Individual Identity in the African 
Debate on Human Rights." Human Rights in Africa: Cross-cultural 
Perspective. Ed. Abdullah! A. An-Na'im and Francis M. Deng. 
Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1990. 

Leary, Virginia A. "The Effect of Western Perspectives on International 
Human Rights." Human Rights in Africa: Cross-cultural Perspective. 
Ed. Abdullahi A. An-Na'im and Francis M. Deng. Washington, 
D.C.: Brookings, 1990. 

Nardin, Terry. "Distributive Justice and the Criticism of International 
Law." Political Studies 29.2 (1981): 232-44. 

Parekh, Bhiku. "Human Rights in Global Politics." Human Rights in Glo- 
bal Politics. Ed. Tim Dunne and Nicholas J. Wheeler. Cam- 
bridge; Cambridge UP, 1999, 

Pogge, Thomas. Realizing Rawis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1989. 

. "An Egalitarian Law of Peoples." Philosophy and Public Affairs 

23.3 (1994): 195-224. 

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice . Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1971. 

, The Law of Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999. 

Tan, Koh-choor. Toleration, Diversity, and Global Justice. College Park, 
PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2000. 

Tasioulas, John. "From Utopia to Kazanistan: John Rawls and the Law of 
Peoples." Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 22.2 (2002): 367-96. 

Teson, Fernando R. "The Rawlsian Theory of International Law." John 
Rawls: Critical Assessment of Leading Political Philosophers. Ed. 
Chandran Kukathas. Vol. 4. London: Routledge, 2003. 

Tibi, Bassaro. "The European Tratlii ion ol Human Rights and the Cul- 
ture of Islam." Human Rights in Africa: Cross-cultural Perspective. 
Ed. Abdullahi A. An-Na'im and Francis M. Deng. Washington, 
D.C.: Brookings, 1990. 104-32. 

Wenar, Leif. "Contractualism and Global Economic Justice." 
Metaphilosophy 32 (2001 ): 85. 

The Mind's Eye 73 


By Kelli Newby 


She always started at Trafalgar Square, the center of the city, 
wading through the pigeons to an empty seat along the fountain. 
The number of pigeons still amazed her every time. Each pigeon 
was hardly worth a thought, bin taken as one creature seemed to 
breathe around her feet, lying like a living stain across the square. The 
flannel scarf tucked into her jacket trapped heat inside the black wool 
coat that kept the dampness out and muted her American identity. 
Ankle deep in pigeons, she took her place near the lions, facing St. 
Martin-in-the-Fields, and settled into routine. There was nothing she 
could do from an ocean away but watch the birds. 

The 22nd of December. Nearly Christmas and she hadn't planned 
on going home. The semester had ended weeks before, but she stayed 
in the city to take it on, to devour it in quick strides, pausing long 
enough to take in the sights, flitting from tourist trap to art museum 
and back to Trafalgar Square. For some time, the city had been all she 
needed, feeding her, entertaining her, offering her opportunities, filling 
her ears with voices from all over the world as she moved through it- 
transient, absorbent, observant. Through all her travels, the pigeons 
were a constant landmark. They were like home, always present no 
matter how far she strayed from the center. But now there was a funeral 
back home and a good-bye she wanted to make but didn't know if she 
could. Today the pigeons crowded her into herself, suffocating her 
with their mass, their stench, their filth: shifting, encroaching, 

74 The Mind 's Eye 

Kelli Newby 

People came from all over the world to feed these birds, to have 
them perch on their heads, on their arms, on their children's heads 
and arms. The tourists laughed as the birds perched and pecked at hair 
and waterproof jackets. Every day she watched the tourists become 
trees with pigeon leaves, Their aviary foliage drifted down from their 
limbs, pooling and shifting in and out of paths, and the tourists with 
outstretched arms looked more like a. forest than anything she had 
seen in a while. 

Lately it seemed to her there were no trees in England. She had 
grown up on the edge of a forest. She and the boy up the street, Jesse, 
found two pine trees that had grown too close together so that they 
had become one tree with two bodies. Between them was a secret 
hideout where light filtered through the long soft white pine needles. 
She took the tree closer to the neighborhood and Jesse took the tree 
closer to the road. Because they were pine trees, she and Jesse could 
climb and climb without ever having to search for a foothold or a 
handhold. Resin leaked out at the joints and turned their hands black 
as they raced up their respective trees. When she could climb no higher, 
they stopped and rested in the boughs, sometimes gossiping, sometimes 
making plans for their ravine fort, sometimes just listening to cars pass 
on the distant road. 

Pigeons were birds without trees. They thrived in treeless places, 
which explained why there were so many in London. 

Every morning on the way to the Tube station they crossed her 
path with their meandering head-bobbing gait, randomly pecking at 
cement just in case there were some trace amount of disintegrated 
cracker that theten million other pigeons had missed. They walked 
inches from, a creature a hundred times their size, concerned only 
with food, moving always just soon enough, but never with purpose. 
They always turned as though their considerable body mass shifted 
suddenly, throwing them off course with the sublime awkwardness of 
the disproportionate. 

Today she had wanted to kick a pigeon, have it bob up to her and 
then just wind up and feel it along her instep, an ugly, stupid head- 
bobbing football flying through the air. In the post-rush-hour, prelunch 
hazy mornings, there were often no witnesses: not one little old lady 
with a matching set of white terriers, not a single misplaced tourist 
ready with his tuppence and crumbs, not one clean-cut young 
professional secretly carrying a PETA card in the breast pocket of his 

The Mind's Eye 75 

Kelli Newby 

long wool raincoat. The pigeon, she imagined, would feel its feel lifted 
off the ground, spread its almost useless wings and for a moment know 
air and know flight as it would never know trees. She had daydreams 
of launching the pigeons into the air, one at a time, until the sky was 
full of specks of migration. 

But mostly she wanted to kick pigeons because she hated them. 

At first she courted the pigeons, waded in among them, amazed at 
their lack of fear, at their absolute disregard for humanity. Growing up 
in the country, she hardly saw pigeons. The closest thing she knew 
were mourning doves, and her grandfather killed them withaBB gun 
because, he said, they were dirty birds. Garbage eaters. They would 
make the other birds sick. She remembered watching her grandfather 
sitting at his kitchen table, waiting for the dirty birds, his eye lined up 
to the scope, the window cracked open just enough for him to have 
ciear shot to the bird feeder. The gun fired with a spitting sound and 
the birds fell back off the perch. She remembered his old hard hands 
picking their small bodies up off the ground and carrying them, behind 
the large pines along the back of the yard, where he buried them. 

She remembered crying when her grandfather picked the bird of! 
the ground the first time she saw it. There was a spot of blood on the 
bird's broad breast and she thought her grandfather a murderer and 
could not look at him for the rest of the day without imagining the 
corpse there. He picked it up with his right hand, and even years later, 
she stilt paused before she took that hand. 

She had studied the pigeons and classified them. She had ample 
opportunity to observe the birds as she learned London on foot. There 
were cow pigeons, black-and-white birds with random smaller patches. 
Cow pigeons were the bravest pigeons, or the stupidest. They were always 
the first to approach a tourist or wander into the street after a discarded 
sandwich crust. Penguin pigeons were also black and white, but with 
more geometric patches. There were Mary Poppins pigeons that had an 
iridescent sheen to them, usually around the neck. They were green or 
gray for the most part, with a tiny line around the base ol the neck 
where the iridescence started. She had liked these pigeons the most; no 
birds at her grandfather's feeder had ever been iridescent. There were 
Cadbury pigeons, which looked like cow pigeons, only brown, There 
were purple pigeons, which were actually more black than purple, but 
she liked the way "purple pigeon" felt when she said it. It had the fun 
sound of a children's television show or a campfire song. 

76 The Mind's Eye 

Kelli Nnvby 

All of her time in London, all of that time with art and theatre and 
music and culture, something remained unsettled within her. On a 
bus in the Alps, she suddenly had a deep craving for trees and she 
recalled the white pines and Jesse. The nearly forgotten memory played 
over and over in her mind— the feel of the bark against her back, how 
dizzy she felt looking down and how she ran the soft needles across 
her palm as she whispered to Jesse about that time they saw the 
dead snake in the crick. It took longer to climb down because she 
was afraid of heights, but he always waited for her at the bottom and 
coached her for the last six or seven feet, telling her he would catch 
her if she slipped. 

A cow pigeon wandered up to her and she shuffled her feet enough 
to drive it away, back toward the tourists. It had red beady eyes. A 
nearby family shouted and laughed as the pigeons climbed onto their 
arms, the father busily dropping fistfuis of pounds for enough bread 
crumbs to give each one of his children the London pigeon experience. 
The cow pigeon flapped its wings and made a dumpy jump onto the 
head of a five-year-old boy who squealed and stood stock-still. His 
mother got to one knee and took a picture, as three pigeons hopped 
up onto her back. 

The Americans on the Tube and in the museums were loud and 
unsettling. She felt herself thinking the word "boorish," though it was 
old-fashioned. She could hear them coming from three galleries away, 
and she bit her bottom lip to prevent any of her American words from 
slipping out until they passed. But these families reminded her of being 
. home. 

They had called this morning, waited out the time difference. Her 
family paused on the other end of the world. There was a heavy silence 
where usually there was a dog barking, siblings shouting news and 
both of her parents on the line, muting it all. She waited on the receiver. 
Her mother sobbed and choked out a few words. 

"Car accident . . . Grandpa . . . didn't suffer. We'ff try to get you 
home. He lived a good life. He always knew how much we loved him. 
There's nothing you can do now. Dad is trying to find a ticket, but 
since it's so close to the holiday. . . . It's not really him anymore. We 
don't even know if we can have an open casket. He would have wanted 
you to go on with your day." 

So she started at Trafalgar Square, as she always did. At the center 
of the city. 

The Mind's Eye 11 

Kelli Newby 

The little boy ran through the pigeons waving his arms and 
laughing. The pigeons scattered with a sudden throbbing whoosh of 
many feathers beating against the air, the air in motion. He flapped his 
arms and the birds continued to take flight one by one. The American 
father was already in pursuit of the child, picking him up and throwing 
him over his shoulder. They spun and spun, and she walked through 
the descending pigeon rain that became pigeon pools. They brushed 
against her feet as she left the square and she itched to kick one. 

Three days before Christmas the cost of travel prohibited sponta- 
neous trips. Her father thuught there might be some kind of grief rate. 
She made her way to a phone booth just off the square, fingering the 
thin plastic calling card in her pocket. Staying away from the tradi- 
tional red booth, the kind tourists want to take pictures of, she ducked 
into a more practical pay-phone hutch and dialed the numbers with- 
out looking at the card. 

The airlines were all very busy, and she got a lot of busy signals, 
which, like the sirens here, were recognizable but tinny and foreign 
sounding. They seemed small. When she did get through, the cost was 
too much to bear on a student's savings and a meager credit-card limit. 
It was time to call home. 

The automated phone calls and brusk employees left her frantic, 
and she misdialed the phone-card numbers twice, prompting the 
recorded English voice to say things like "I'm sorry. I don't understand. 
Please try again." She dialed again, her hand covered in black- ink notes 
from the last few phone calls — "one" for customer service, "seven" to 
book a flight, "eight" to speak to a real person, and a lightning bolt 
traced over and over as she was on hold, until it was a fat black jagged 
scar on the meaty part of her hand. 

Her mother answered the phone. She sounded small, tinny and 
foreign. They traded information on flights and prices, said that they 
would both keep trying. They both knew the family could not afford 
such an expense, especially with the cost of funerals. She tried to make 
it sound like she would be fine sitting in Trafalgar Square, alone on 
Christmas while her family said their good-byes. Her mother meant to 
say something about family and being together, but it got lost in her 
exhausted sobs. 

She felt herself get teary, felt her vision blur and a tear escape 
from the corner of her eye. She bit her lip and opened her eyes wide 
to hold it all in so as not to cry in a public phone booth half a block 

78 The Mind's Eye 

Kelii Newby 

from all the happy tourist families. She focused her attention on a 
passing Mary Poppins pigeon. It pecked at the ground twice and then 
bobhled a few inches and pecked at the ground again. For a moment, 
her mother's crying and the pigeons' rocking gait seemed to line up 
rhythmically. Sob, peck, sob, peck, peck. 

The side of a fist hit the Plesriglas with a ringing thud. There was a 
young couple standing just to the side of her booth, smiling. She kept 
her back to them, catching sight of them with a glance as her mother 
sobbed into her ear. The young man rapped again, this time two solid 
thumps. She stared at the empty red phone booth across the street, 
felt her tears beginning to spill, saw three more pigeons peck the same 
bloody spot, totally undisturbed by the reverberating "whomp" above 

She turned and saw the earnest stupid eyes of the young couple 
staring at her through the Plexiglas. They were like pigeons, waiting 
for something they didn't deserve, staring at her when the thing they 
wanted was available just a few feet from where they stood. Normally, 
with tourists she spoke with a light English accent to give them the 
impression that they'd spoken to a real Brit. It was her contribution to 
the tourist industry. Besides, after six months here, American English 
felt heavy and awkward falling out of her mouth. But now the 
American English came from her, her native tongue with its solid 

"I'm on an international call. I am going to be a while. There's a 
phone booth across the street," she said with all the edgy force of 
restrained weeping, of all the frustration from being passed through 
automated telephone systems only to be told that she could not afford 
to say good-bye to her grandpa. 

The couple was still there. She ran the back of her hand under her 
eyes, cleared her throat and turned to face them with the sternest face 
she could muster. Her mother's sobs got raspy and nearly silent, 
punctuating the call like hiccups. 

"There is a phone booth across the street. See it? It's big and red. 
You can take a whole roll of pictures while you're there. Knock yourself 
out. I'm on an international call. International." 

"Poland," the man said with a smile and a nod. 

"United States," she said, pointing at the receiver. 

"We. Poland." 

The Mind's Eye 79 

Kelli Newby 

"America," she said. 

The couple nodded and smiled. "America! We. Poland." 
"My grandpa died and I'm trying to get home." 
"America!" they said. They nodded. 

She said good-bye to her mother, promising to call back later, hastily 
vacating the booth so that Poland could use the phone. She made her 
way back to the square, determined to begin her day. 

At the zebra crossing she saw a dead pigeon crumpled in the gut- 
ter, its head at an unnatural angle, its leathers stained from the muck 
of the street. It had been a Mary Poppins pigeon. Of all the pigeons in 
this city, she had never seen a dead one. Perhaps she thought them 
immortal, as though they were just this great mass, this one great 
life force that transferred its energy as it ebbed around the tourists 
and the lions, as it crapped on the heads of the tourists and the lions. 
She stepped into the street and touched it with her foot. The body 
gave against the slight pressure, like a beanbag. A shudder twisted her 
shoulders up toward her ears and she shook it off. She touched the 
pigeon again, harder. It rolled up slightly, tipping back when she with- 
drew her foot. 

Looking back toward the square, she watched the tourists for a 
moment, hoping to go unnoticed as she squatted down above the bird, 
the dirty bird. There were crews that did this, she knew, but her hand 
touched the wet mangy feathers of the bird's broad chest. She found it 
heavier than she imagined it would be, and its spine bent backward 
across her palm, on the verge of snapping, she thought. Its head and 
feet swayed as she lifted it, as she held it in her right hand like an 
offering to a passing Black Cab. She carried it to a garbage can and 
dropped it in, watched as the empty paper bags of bird feed fell on top 
of it, hiding it away from the little children who would cry if they saw 
a dead pigeon. It fell back into layers and layers, as the center gave 
beneath it. 

Her hand felt dirty. She held it out unnaturally, reminding herself 
not to touch anything, Behind her the pigeons shifted to make up for 
the empty space and she, at the center of the city, waded. 


Alter three hours of phone calls and bad hold music, her father 
had found a ticket at a grief rate. It was the 23rd now. Nearly Christmas 

SO The Mind's Eye 

Kelli Newhy 

Eve. She rode the people movers from one end of Heathrow's 
International Terminal and back while the polite British voice asked 
her to "mind the end. " The ground beneath her propelled her forward, 
until that end, when she had to push through the 50 feet to the next 
conveyor belt through the cacophony of 24-hour news stations. In 
each break, she felt like she was moving through water, straining against 
something viscous, until the ground took over once again. She rode 
past the discount perfume, the silk scarves and ties that would have 
made nice Christmas presents for her parents and the discount CDs 
her siblings would have loved. Duty-free on her right and left, and 
the ground taking on all responsibility for momentum. 

A woman with a jingle-bell necklace walked by, weighed down 
with tax-free booze and cigars. Her dog probably had reindeer antlers. 
She had probably come to London to feed pigeons, and now she was 
heading home to share her joy. She would make it just in time for 
Christmas Eve. It would begin a thousand times as they crossed the 
ocean, hitting midnight over and over. A man at the gate asked if she 
was going to see her family, if they were doing something special for 
Christmas, and all she could say was yes. 

The plane pulled west through the night over the Atlantic. The 
half glass of red wine hung in her head like dusty threadbare theatre 
curtains. The alcohol and travel rested along the back right side of her 
neck, wrapped up and around to her temple. She leaned back in the 
seat, hugged the tiny paper-covered pillow and tried to ease into the 
forward motion of wind currents, jet engines and journey. She drifted 
back to Jesse and the plane pulled west, hitting Christmas Eve over 
and over. 

Jesse grabbed the snake by its tail, striking out at it with 12 -year- 
old hands. She had screamed when the snake darted across her path 
and over her foot. But held aloft in Jesse's hand, writhing upside down, 
swinging its long line of a body against gravity and against a creature 
a thousand times its size, the thin black musculature that had seemed 
so ominous, so oily and noxious, dangled like a hair ribbon from his 
fingers. It struggled less than she thought it would. The yellow stripe 
against the blackness meant that it was a garter snake, infamously 
harmless. Its head was no larger than the point of her finger. 

When she was three years old, she had been on a walk and had 
run ahead of her mother and Jesse's mother, while Jesse trailed behind. 
A snake had appeared from beneath a crisp pile of leaves, rearing up a 

The Mind's Eye SI 


foot high and hissing, puffing its head out like a cobra's hood. One 
remembers so little from three, but the image of the snake, the sound 
of the piercing air a hiss length from her face, the brown hood and 
upturned nose stayed with her and appeared in moments of fear with 
a sharp intake of breath. Her grandfather killed it with a shovel while 
she waited in the house, curled up on her mother's lap. She 
remembered her grandfather walking with measured strides across 
the backyard to the woods. As much as the snake had scared her, she 
didn't want it to die; she didn't want anything to die. 

She didn't want grandfathers to die, but at three, she didn't know 
that they could. That they would. She just knew that sometimes things 
couldn't come back and that it made people sad. 

Her grandfather disposed of the snake with four downward thrusts 
of a sharp shovel blade and buried the pieced corpse there beneath the 
leaves. Three days before, he had killed its mate. He had never seen 
such a snake before, he told everyone over dinner preparations as he 
dumped heaping piles of seasoned salt over the raw, washed pork chops. 
Perhaps he had said that to make her feel better about her fear, about 
screaming and running from the snake. With this statement, it was an 
evil alien snake that even her wise, farmer grandfather could not 
identify. It could have been poisonous. It could have smuggled itself in 
a fruit box from India. But her grandfather was not one for 
exaggeration. He disposed of a strange snake, then its mate, and life 
continued on at a measured pace from chore to chore. 

But the garter snake dangling from Jesse's fingers was no cobra. 
Though she fea red snakes, had spent many years of her life too terrified 
to step foot in a reptile house, the little black snake's lazy twisting 
pushed aside the memory of the brown cobra snake. 

"Let it go," she said. 

Jesse dropped to one knee and pulled his knife out of his back 
pocket. He flipped the blade open with the side of his thumb, then 
clamped the blade between his lips. He used his now free hands to 
turn the snake over, to expose its lighter underbelly, the tiles of its 
underneath, and he held the snake by its head, caught the finger-sized 
skull between his pointer and thumb. There, above the snake, Jesse's 
cross necklace dangled. It was a leather thong with the cross made 
from different-colored beads, each bead representing something— life, 
blood, sacrifice, love, salvation — and it swayed as the snake had only 
a moment before. Now the snake struggled against the pressure, against. 

82 The Mind's Eye 

Kelli Newby 

being so exposed and overpowered, Jesse pulled the knife from his 
mouth and with an overhand motion thrust the pointed tip into the 
snake's throat. 

The snake screamed with its body, first going rigid and then 
undulating desperately sideways and up and down, roiling as the 
knife bounced against its rubbery skin and nearly collapsed on the 
boy's dirty fingers. She told him not to do it, but perhaps too softly. 
She thought to look away, but stared as he rested the point against 
the snake's throat and then pushed, applying pressure with patience, 
putting the tip of the blade between two tiles of off-yellow skin. 
The snake struggled again, the pain apparent in every flick of the 
tiny tail against the dirt path. The skin of the throat stretched to 
breaking and the knife slid past it into the snake. Jesse's cross swung 
above it, pendulumlike. The gold bead at the center of the cross 
caught the light and glinted as the snake's thrashings turned lan- 
guid and then it stilled. Jesse breathed hard, as though they had 
run up the sides of the ravine, but they had not. 

He picked the snake up by its tail and dangled it again, This time it 
swayed like the rope swing over the crick with aimless, uneven twisting 
motions. Dark blood seeped down its tiny jaw muscles and made a 
spot on the dirt path by Jesse's feet. The blood came in a stream and 
then began to drip. Only when the drops seemed tn stop did he look 
up at her. 

Jesse had watery blue eyes and wavy brown hair, a cute face that 
inched toward handsome with every passing year. His body already 
hinted at the lean runner's silhouette it would become. He always 
wore a cross around his neck, even when they threw on old clothes to 
wear in the woods — torn jeans and ugly too -small T-shirts. He held 
the snake out in front of him, his arm rigid. Their eyes met and then 
their gazes dropped to the snake. 

She felt her eyes get watery, her throat tense, but she refused to 
cry, especially in front of Jesse. Her sinewy, as yet undeveloped body 
still looked like a boy's body, and in her heart, she was a boy, more 
comfortable in mud and cutoffs than in Barbie Dream Houses. They 
both looked back into the woods, toward their fort, and he led the 
way, snake still limply, sickly dangling from his outstretched arm. 

She followed him down the steep ravme slope, walking sideways 
on her feet, digging little trenches with each step so as not to slide 
down the hill on the soft soil and slick leaf covering. They followed 

The Mind's Eye 83 

mH Newby 

their regular path, moving from Iree to tree, checking their balance 
and foothold at each one. guiding themselves back, down to the crick. 
The sky was beginning to go lavender and it was getting on to 
suppertime. Their mothers would he waiting. They would still have to 
wash up before they ate, at least scrub their hands and arms and faces 
and strip off the silty ravine-stained clothes. 

At the center of the stream, there was a tiny island, a sandbar 
exposed by a dry autumn. They had found four fallen branches, an 
old half-decomposed tarp and some twine. With these items, they had 
constructed a tepee. It lacked the grace of a real tepee because two of 
the branches were much longer than the others and the blue tarp 
covered only three quarters of the outside. They rarely went into the 
tepee — they feared it would tip over with them inside — but they had 
spent two days building it and afterward they had spent another two 
days building a stepping-stone bridge out to the island. 

Jesse walked along the stepping-stones and motioned with his free 
hand for her to follow. He stopped at the tepee's entrance and looked 
up at the juncture of the beams. They had wrapped the twine around 
each branch until the entire ball was gone. They had then walked the 
structure upright and pulled each branch out until it balanced on its 
own. The tepee had fallen over a few times before they found the best 
way. If the fort hadn't been a secret, they would have shown it off to 
everyone. Jesse stood in front of the threshold, looking up. The place 
where the branches met was just out of his reach, and he was a foot 
taller than she. 

"You have to do it," he said. 

She paused. 

"I'll hold you up." 

She walked to his side and he held the snake out to her. She took 
it from him, holding it at the very tip of its tail, so that the snake 
seemed suspended in the space between her fingers. She felt the sway 
of its body, the tightness in her throat as the snake's weight shifted in 
that suspended space. The head nearly touched her as it swung and 
she sucked her body in and away from it, missing it barely. 

Then she felt Jesse's hands on her waist, his strong hands that 
already looked like men's hands, each knuckle visible, nails short, 
fingertips rounded- His fingers touched her undecided waist and she 
forgot about the snake. They tightened their grip around her, and the 
snake's head brushed against her side. She stepped back into him and 
he counted to three, bouncing lightly with her and then heaving her 

84 The Mind s, Eye 

Kelt: Ncwby 

into the air as she jumped and reached with the snake toward the 
place where all the branches met. She let the snake go and the tension 
of its spine held it in the gap between two branches. 

They waited for a couple of minutes, but the snake stayed in place. 
They waited until it stopped swaying, till it hung over the entrance to 
their tepee like a prize or a warning. It dangled in the break of the blue 
tarp and they washed their hands in the crick and went home. 

A day later it rained hard. The stream took back the tepee island 
and washed the structure downstream, where it stopped against a fallen 
tree. The snake still held between the branches and they saw it, caught 
in the current, unfurled and waving like seaweed. By the next time 
they got out to the woods, the stream had carried it away. They never 
told anyone about the snake. 

On the plane, when she closed her eyes, she saw the brown cobra 
snake overlapped by the dead garter snake stretched out in the current. 
With a breath she let the snakes go and remembered Jesse's fingers 
digging into her waist and lifting her into the air. 


Her clothes clung to her, sticky and wrinkled and stale, but 
appropriately black. She was certain they did not look as bad as they 
felt, but she felt ripe and medieval stewed in her own juices. Her clothes 
felt pasted to her as she pushed the cab door open and swung her 
backpack over a shoulder. In her purse she found the 20 she'd bought 
for an exorbitant rate at the airport. Did he know how much that 20 
cost her? She had half a mind to give him a handful of heavy gold- 
colored one-pound coins, too; they were heavy and felt like money in 
your pocket. 

He looked at her face, and not at the cash she pressed into his 
hands. He had deep black eyes, the kind of eyes colonizers always 
admire in people of the Orient — inky, ancient, breathing. Having gotten 
out to help with her bag — they botlt knew she needed no help with 
the hag — he stood in the cold winter afternoon, clouds of steam forming 
frost on his beard and mustache. The heat escaped from his still-running 
car; the meter's red digital display caught her gaze. He wrapped his 
fingers around hers as she left the crisp green bill there, and she looked 
away from his soulful eyes and the heartbreaking humanity of pity. 

"Merry Christmas Eve," she whispered. 

The Mind's Eye 85 

Kelli Newlty 

The cabbie's nearly bad muffler grumbled and tainted the air with 
sulfur as he pulled away and she looked up at the funeral home's sign. 

She had fled from the sun across the ocean, and now the hours 
and the light were dreamlike, painful and heavy. The voice; in 
loudspeakers and on radios now sounded like her own, heavy with 
Midwestern Rs. She looked across the ice-slicked parking lot, saw her 
father's blue sedan and her aunt's silver one. The bodies were a dull 
gray, covered in salt, but still familiar. 

Suddenly, almost panicked, she looked for birds, for signs of life, 
but there were no pigeons here. The building waited for her. ft was 
Christmas Eve, and she was finally surrounded by trees, but now she 
wanted pigeons. The Midwestern bitter cold cut through the thin wool 
jacket that could hold London out. Even her flannel scarf seemed to 
be giving up, letting the ice seep in along her neck. Her hands trembled 
inher jacket pockets and she remembered the dead pigeon. She ciosed 
that hand in a fist to prevent it from touching anything, even the 
pocket lining. If she had a fag, if she smoked, she would light up now, 
and her lungs would burn, and her breath would be opaque and toxic. 

"Miss? Are you with the Leonard family?" 

"Yes," she responded with the light British accent that she used 
for the tourists. 

He wore a nice suit and a tie somber enough for the occasion, 
with bright threads of hope, a swirl of comfort and a touch of character. 
The cold did not bother him as he leaned against the door, let the heat 
out and invited her in. A smog of flower perfume rolled out with the 
warmth. He gazed at her with the "I'm so sorry" look he had had to 
master for his profession, a genuine but oft-repeated facial gesture of 
empathy and helpfulness. 

She walked up the Astroturf-covered steps, let the scent of lilies 
and roses cover her with their incense-thick perfume. Her feet sank 
deep into the thickly padded sea-foam-green carpet. It took effort to 
pull her foot up out ol the mire of the plushness, to move herself 
forward through it. Ahead, she saw the open double doors of the only 
parlor open today, her family's name in removable plastic letters stuck 
into a black felt sign. To her right she saw a brass sign pointing toward 
the bathroom. 

The parlor, she knew, was a big room ringed in folding chairs, 
with her small family gathered at the front around a body in a coffin. 
They were all waiting for her. The fuoeraf started in less than an hour. 

86 The Mind's Eye 

Kelii Newby 

To the right, the bathroom would be down a stretch of ankle-deep 
sea-foam-colored carpet. The fixtures would be brass, and a brass- 
covered Kleenex dispenser would be prominently displayed, white 
paper tissues lifting out with a rush and a sigh, reaching upward — 
unscented, soft and dustless. AH the ostentation of funeral, the luxury 
of grief. She wanted to wash her hands again. 

"Miss, there's not much time," the undertaker whispered, taking 
her arm at the elbow and steering her toward the parlor. He 
maneuvered the grief-stricken for a living, she knew. He had a talent 
for making the carpel become buoyant, for taking on the responsibility 
of forward motion with a squeeze of the elbow. 

They needed to get in and out of the church. The children had to 
practice for the pageant. Years ago she had wanted to be Mary, but 
they gave the part to a prettier girl, and they made her the angel that 
carries Jesus's birthday cake. Her grandfather had been so proud of 
her, a tiny girl and a giant cake, and not a crumb dropped. He waited 
with her in the hall. He lit the candle with a match from the tattered 
matchbook that he pulfed out of his suit pocket. Through the lilies, 
she caught the remembered smell of sulfur. 

The undertaker released her at the end of the chairs and walked 
dutifully toward the closed casket. Her mother and sister shuffled up 
to her, hugged her and whispered damp funeral words to her neck. 
Her grandmother knelt before the coffin mouthing a silent rosary. No 
one asked about the flight or about the weather in England or the 
quality of the airline food or her inevitable jet lag. 

They, the family, would get to see him. They, the undertakers, had 
done a pretty good job, he thought. He spoke in a low, respectful voice 
that always seemed to begin with "I know this is hard ..." whether or 
not he said the phrase. Pausing with his hand on the door, he looked 
down and away, toward the yellow rose arrangement someone's in- 
laws had sent. The family bunched around the kneelers, all shoulder 
to shoulder and back to front, allowing themselves an unobstructed 
but framed view of the body. 

The body lay on a bed of white satin, the skin the orangey peach 
of pancake makeup, though the thick layer still did not cover the 
distinctive age spot above his right temple. Her eyes passed over the 
face that seemed too flat on one side, the side facing away from them. 

A year ago to the day, her grandfather had set up his BB gun at 
the kitchen table as the women prepared pies and food for dinner, it 

The Mind's Eye 87 


was on his list of things to do: 50 sit-ups, play accordion, kill pigeons. 
She watched him pull the window open, sit down and wait for the 
dirty birds. 

"Grandpa, you can't kill pigeons on Christmas Eve," she had said, 
half scolding. 

He looked at her and smiled, squeezed her hand with his right 
hand and agreed to hold off on the pigeon killing (or a day or two. His 
hands were hard, she recalled, but still big, even though she'd grown. 

She tried to force herself to look at the body, to say the necessary 
good -by es, to preserve the image of his corpse as a perma nent memory, 
but her eyes drifted away from the face, down to his hands that were 
folded around a rosary and resting on his abdomen. She tried to tell 
herself to remember this moment. It was why they had open caskets. 
Her eyes passed to her grandmother's thin shoulder, through the black 
wool jacket to the kitchen table to Christmas Eve to the smell of Jesus's 
birthday. cake to hard hands cradling her cheek. 

88 The Mind's Eye 

Crossing Over: 
Hank Williams, Sam Cooke 
and the Birth of Modern 
Soul and Country 

By Richard Taskin 

Lovesick Blues: "The Life of Hank Williams," by Paul Hemphill. 
New York: Viking, 2005 

Dream Boogie: "The Triumph of Sam Cooke," by Peter Guralnick. 
Boston: Little Brown, 2005 

Hank Willams: Honky Tank Blues. Written and Produced by Morgan 
Neville and Colin Escott, PBS American Masters series, 2004 

Sam Cooke: Legend. Written by Peter Guralnick. ABKCO Music and 
Records (DVD). 2003 

One Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 RCA/ 
Legacy (CD) 2005 

The years after World War if saw the emergence of youth cul- 
ture in the United States. The advent of rock-'n'-roll music in 
the 1950s was its most visible symbol. What becomes increas- 
ingly striking from a half century fater is the extent to which that 
music helped create new and different forms of racial consciousness. 
White and black singers in the 1940s and '50s synthesized national 
styles and not only helped forge a new musical sensibility but also 
stirred a new racial consciousness that challenged long-held barriers 
between the races. 

The Mind's Bye 89 

Richard Taskin 

Recent biographies of two figures who emerged from this era of- 
fer some striking parallels in the history and fate of that new sound. 
The story of how Sam Cook, boy-wonder singer of the gospel legends 
the Soul Stirrers, became Sam Cooke, the original soul singer and 
one of the first black singers to cross over to a white audience, and of 
how Hiram Williams, the sickly child of a single madam, became Hank 
Williams, the king of country music, tells us a lot about the role of 
popular music in the history of race relations in the last century. 

The careers of both men are studies in racial reinvention. Both 
grew up in a rigidly segregated world, yet somehow both developed 
musical sensibilities that suggest a profound racial mixing. Both were 
steeped in the music of the church, and their careers blossomed dur- 
ing the golden age of gospel music. Both wrote much of their own 
material well before the advent of the singer-songwriier in the 1960s 
and, most of ail, both died prematurely under tragic circumstances 
that seemed like a Sunday sermon on the pitfalls of fame. 

The words "lean and hungry" appear in the first sentence of Paul 
Hemphill's biography to describe the South Alabama country where 
Hank grew up, but in some ways they describe Hank himself. Hemphill, 
who has written extensively about the South and grew up listening 
to Hank with his truck-driving dad, employs a Hemingwaylike sparse- 
ness to tell his story. For Hemphill, who devoted much of his career 
to writing about the Southland, Lovesick Blues is something of the 
capstone of his career. 

The man who as a teenager renamed himself Hank Williams was 
born Hiram in 1923. His father suffered from a debititating injury he 
suffered at the end of World War I in a Parisian nightclub brawl over 
a woman. Hank's mother, Lillie Wiliams, a physically imposing and at 
times brutal figure, pushed Hank relentlessly. She never doubted his 
talent for a second, though she wasn't afraid to let him know that 
booze would make him worthless, just like his father. 

As a child, Hank sold peanuts on the street, shincd shoes and, at 
the age of 11, became mesmerized by Rufus "Tee-Tot" Payne, a 
Greenville street singer who sang blues and gospel. The sight of the 
tall, skinny 11- or 12-year-old white boy tagging along with a 
fiftysomething black man is, of course, an image right out of The Ad- 
ventures of Huckleberry Finn. Like Huck and Jim, what we have here is 
a rural white boy raised in the racist South who finds in the culture 

90 The Mind's Eye 

Richard mm 

and kindness of an older black man a way to bridge the horrible racial 
divide between white and black Americans. 

Granted, Hank Williams was aware of minstrelry and its demean- 
ing treatment of blacks, and his songs contain references to "colored 
people." He probably learned the song that made him famous, 
"Lovesick Blues," from a 1 920s recording by a blackface singer named 
Emmett Miller, who btUed himself as the "minstrel man from Geor- 
gia." Yet however conventional Williams' attitudes toward blacks were, 
his playing and singing reflected a genuine respect for the blues, and 
has led Hank Williams Jr., for one, to proclaim him a blues singer. 

Hank's relationship with "Tee-Tot" is only one of many insights 
into Williams' work that Morgan Neville and Colin Escott provide in 
the PBS American Masters series Hank Williams: Honky Tank Blues, Of 
the 90 or so musicians who over the years played behind Hank in his 
band The Drifting Cowboys, the documentary tracks down the key 
players as well as some genuine characters who made brief appear- 
ances in the band. As old men, they recall Hank as a man who over- 
came great physical pain, spree drinking and a disastrous family life 
while composing some of the finest songs in the history of country 
music. Indeed, although Williams' relationship with his mom, and 
his even more stormy relationship with his first wife, Audrey, are the 
stuff of country legends (and numerous Hank Williams tunes), it was 
clear that both recognized and championed his talent, and the sur- 
viving Drifting Cowboys make it clear that it is impossible to have 
imagined his career's having achieved the level of success his music 
has attained without both of them to goad him and champion him. 

Sam Cooke, on the other hand, was a self-starter. Were he alive, he 
would be celebrating his 75th birthday this year. If Hank Williams' up- 
bringing and worldview gave voice to the rural Southerners depicted in 
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the arc of Sam Cooke's life reflected the 
great internal migration of black Americans from the ruraf South to the 
capital of the "promised land" of Chicago and beyond. Bom Sam Cook 
in Clarksdale, Mississippi, he was the "adored middle child of a Church 
of Christ minister with untrammeled ambitions for his children" 
(Guralnick 9). Charles Cook found work in the Reynolds Metal plant in 
McCook, Illinois, hut found time to preach and organized his large fam- 
ily into a gospel group called The Singing Children. At the age of six, 
Sam sang tenor and, according to his brothers, was already focused on a 

The Mmd's Eye 91 

Richard Taskin 

musical career. Not only did he sit at the feet of numerous guspel singers 
in storefront churches but, as Peter Guralnick makes clear, at a very young 
age he was aware of the black crossover vocal group The Ink Spots and 
the cool vocal styles of Bing Crosby and Gene Autry. He wanted to reach 
a wider audience, which meant a white audience. 

Cooke grew up in the intensely competitive world of gospel sing- 
ing, which in the years after World War II experienced what, is now 
considered to be its golden era. 1 What people quickly noticed about 
Sam was his ambition, his relentless self- improvement, his confidence, 
geniality and ability to throw together an original song at a time when 
performers generally did not compose their own material. By the time 
he joined the veteran group the Soul Stirrers in 1952, he already had 
a huge following among younger fans in the gospel circuit who were 
drawn to his charisma, good looks and vocal magnetism. Here he 
developed the vocal curlicues and embellishments, in particular that 
"whoa-oh-ohs" that later would be his trademark, and it was that he 
single-handedly inspired young people to go to church. 

Guralnick's treatment of Cooke's life reflects the turmoil and con- 
tradictions of its subject. Dream Boogie, he tells us, is "the story of a 
man who, while creating some of the most memorable pop songs of a 
generation, in addition to a universally recognized civil rights anthem, 
was himself as compfex, uncategorizable and sometimes unreadable 
as his work was transparent" (xiv) . It is perhaps that complexity that 
makes the story difficult to follow. Guralnick's two-part biography of 
Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, succeeds because 
Part 1 in particular gives the illusion of locating for the reader its 
subject's unreal world. Dream Boogie suffers in part because an ever 
shuffling cast of characters never seem to get us to the "real" Sam 
Cooke, and, to be blunt, at times the book is confusing as hell, 2 

Perhaps part of Guralnick's problem is that the turmoil in the text 
reflects the. turmoil in Cooke's career. He enjoyed hit singles regu- 
larly, but there always seemed to be a good deal of uncertainty about 
what direction his music would take and what sort of audience he 
wanted. He clearly appealed to the growing teen market of the rock- 

'F-or [lie golden age of gospel, see Anthony Heilbut, The Gospel Sound: "Good News tor 
Bad Times" (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971). 

! Sce Peter Guralnick, Las! Train to Memphis: "Tile Rise of Elvis Presley" (Boston: Little Brown. 
1994): Careless lew: "The Unmaking of Elvis Presley" (Boston: Little Brown, 1999). 

92 The MindS Eye 

Richard Taskin 

'n'-roll era, but he also yearned for an adult contemporary biracial 
audience. Cooke envisioned his career in the mode of Harry Belafonte, 
Sammy Davis Jr., Nat 'King" Cole, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. 
In many ways, this attempt at crossover success seriously hampered 
Cooke's artistry. He made records devoted to the music of Billie 
Holliday, Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin that in the abstract seem 
intriguing, but as Guralnick makes clear, the results were forgettable. 
Cooke experienced one of the greatest setbacks of his career when he 
was booked with borscht belt comedian Myron Cohen at the 
Copacabana Club in New York City and, not surprisingly, bombed. 
The (I think) unintended irony of the video biography Guralnick put 
together for VH- 1 a few years ago is that many of the Cooke perfor- 
mances that survive on videotape are stilted, wooden and unneces- 
sarily genteel attempts at placating a white audience. 

By contrast, the 1963 recording Live at the Harlem Square Club, 
issued on CD for the first time in 2005, gives a taste of what some of 
Cooke's legendary live performances were like, going back to his days 
as a teenager when, as a member of the Soul Stirrers, Sam and his 
group would enter from the back of the church and come down the 
aisle singing and "turn out" church after church. A very Otis Redding- 
like performance of "Feel It (Don't Fight It)" highlights 35 minutes of 
one Cooke original classic after another, including "Bring It On Home 
to Me," "Twistin' the Night Away," "Cupid" and "We're Havin' a Party." 

Both Williams and Cooke died young. The suddenness of their 
deaths has inevitably led to speculation about what would have hap- 
pened if they had lived, In Hank's case, it may have been, as Hemphill 
writes, "a good career move" to die at the height of his fame with one 
of his most famous compositions, "Your Cheatin' Heart," as yet 
unreleased. A perfect epilogue to Hank's work, it summarized but did 
not represent a transformation of his sound. He may have had more 
good songs left in him; Certainly, the ethos of rock 'n' roll was al- 
ready present in much of his music and fife, and, unlike that of most 
country singers, his career may have survived Elvis. On the other 
hand, the "maturity" of Williams' work — the extraordinary number 
of first-rate compositions, the demo records and hours of radio shows 
he left behind along with his 60-pIus recordings — do not leave listen- 
ers with a sense that there is something incomplete about his career 
or unfinished in his legacy, 

The Mind's Eye 93 

Richard Taskin 

Sam Cooke was riding high at the time of his death, writing and 
producing hits on a regular basis. He once wrote that he burned "with 
ambition to achieve the kind of show-business stature that Harry 
Belafonte and Nat 'King' Cole have achieved," but that was not all. 
He also wanted to attain "the kind of stature Jackie Robinson and Dr. 
Ralph Bunch . . . achieved in their fields" (Guralnick 335-336). In- 
deed, Sam Cooke's career as a secular singer occurred during the height 
of the civil rights movement. In 1958, he performed before an inte- 
grated audience on a live remote broadcast of Dick Clark's American 
Bandstand despite death threats and the presence of Ku Klux Klan 
members in the audience and in the National Guard sent to maintain 
order. 3 He read books on race and history, improvised music to the 
poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, donated money to NAACP and re- 
fused to play before a segregated audience in Memphis in 1961. When 
Cassius Clay shocked the world and defeated Sonny Liston in Miami 
in February 1964, Cooke climbed into the ring and congratulated the 
champ. He even recorded a "party record" with Clay. 

This highly visible show of support for Clay as he was becoming 
Muhammad Ali suggested a growing milita nee on Cooke's part. When 
he first heard "Blowin' in the Wind," he couldn't believe a white boy 
could write a song like that and damn near felt ashamed he hadn't 
written it himself. He wanted to write a civil rights song that was as 
poetic, something that would make the truth plain. 

"A Change Is Gonna Come" was only a modest hit in the weeks 
after Cooke's death in December 1964, but its stature has grown 
immeasurably over the years. Its elegiac quality made it the song that 
powers the closing scenes of Spike Lee's Malcolm X. It is a song unlike 
anything Cooke had ever written. It was a song about the "struggle": 
both that for civil rights for all Americans and the struggle within. 
The verses speak of rejection and deleat: 

I go to the movies, and I go downtown 

Somebody keep telling me "Don't hang around. . . ." 

I go to my brother and I say, "Brother, help me please" 
But he winds up knocking me back down on my knees 

'For the Atlanta incident, see Dick Clark. Rock. Roll & Remember {New York: Thomas Y. 
Crowell 1976) 133-134. 

94 The Mind's Eye 

Richard Taskin 

And when Cooke sings "I don't know what's up there on the other 
side," it speaks of his own crisis of faith after his only son's tragic 
drowning in 1963. It also foreshadows his own death later that year 
and directly challenges the chorus of "I know a change is gonna come 
oh yes it will" and, at the very least, reminds us that the change isn't 
going to come, oh, say, within 40 years of Cooke's death." No wonder 
when Sam Cooke first played the record for his protege Bobby Womack 
and asked what he thought of the tune, the answer he got was "It 
feels like death." Yet somehow it inspires us with a sense that we 
must carry on amidst tragedy. Mayhe that's what Rosa Parks had in 
mind when she and her mother played the record again and again 
after hearing of the death of Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. 

On the day of his death, Sam Cooke was telling friends about his 
next album project, a down-home version of the blues in the tradition 
of Howfin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. He was a singer-songwriter and en- 
trepreneur (he co-owned his own record label and wrote and produced 
for other artists on the side) before the record business was "revolution- 
ized" in the late 1 960s from a few major labels arid some independents to 
a small group of multinational corporations. Certainly, "A Change Is Gonna 
Come" gives every indication that his abilities as a songwriter were 
nowhere near tapped out, and he may have pursued any number of 
political or artistic directions in the coming decades. 

As the United States quietly resegregated in the 1990s, the music 
of the period reflected the new division street. 5 What is remarkable and 
often unremarked upon is that black and white musicians seem to have 
been far more conscious of one another 50 years ago than they are 
today in an era of niche marketing and carefully defined market, demo- 
graphics, one in which it certainly appears that black entertainers in 
particular are more segregated by choice and design than they have 
been in generations, Sam Cooke once famously sang in a tune he wrote 
that he didn't "know much about history." 6 The reality is different and 
the musical legacy he and Hank Williams have left us is one that speaks 
to the unrealized possibilities of American fife. 

11 Lyrics from "A Change Is Gonna Come" written by Sam Cooke. Copyright 1964, re- 
newed 1992, ABKCO Music Inc. (BMI). All rights reserved. 

s On resegregation in the 1990s, see James T. Patterson. Brown v. Beard of Education: "A 
Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy" (New York: Oxford, 2001 ) 191-205. 

*Lyrics from "( What a) Wonderful World" written by Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert and Lou 
Adler. Copyright 1959, renewed 1987. ABKCO Music Inc. (BMI). All rights reserved. 

The Mind's Eye 95 


Thomas Western Fels is a curator and a writer. His articles on the 
generation of the 1960s include "Economy: Thoreau at the Turn of 
the Millennium" and "Narrative of Surprising Conversions: Irv in New 
York." Mr. Fels is the founder of the new Famous Long Ago Archive 
at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, which focuses on the 
lives of that generation. 

Tony Gengarelly is a professor of art history and museum studies at 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He has published numerous 
articles and books, including a 1989 catalog. The Prendergasts and the 
Arts and Crafts Movement, and a 1996 monograph. Distinguished Dissenters 
and Opposition to the 1919-1920 Red Scare. His most recent book, written 
with his students at MCLA, is Randy Trabold's Northern Berkshire County, 
published in 2003. Tony is currently working on a catalog of the work 
of autist-artist Jessica Park (forthcoming fall 2006). 

Kelli Newby leaches writing at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, 
her alma mater. She is currently working on her MFA in fiction 
through the Bennington Writing Seminars. This Is her first publication. 

Paul Nnodim is assistant professor of philosophy at Massachusetts 
College of Liberal Arts. His major interest is in the area of social and 
globaljustice. He recently authored a book in Germany: Rawls' Theorie 
der Gerechtigkeit ais angemessene moralische Grundlage fiir sine liberak 
demokratische Gesellschaft im globalen Koniext (Rawls's Theory of Justice 
as an Appropriate Moral Basis for the Global Institutionalization of 
Liberal Democratic Order), Athena, 2004. 

Richard Taskin practices law in the city of North Adams. He also 
teaches courses in the Sociology/ Anthropology/Social Work 
Department on race and ethnicity, as well as courses related to the 
Criminal Justice minor. 

96 The Mind's Eye 

Mind's Eye 

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